College graduates who see clear connections between their coursework and their later employment place the highest value on their college education, a new large-scale consumer survey found.
The survey, conducted by Gallup in conjunction with Strada Education Network, which focuses on pathways between education and employment, included data from interviews with nearly 100,000 people who have completed college in the past two decades.
When asked whether their postsecondary education was worth the cost, graduates of vocational programs were the most likely to “strongly agree” (57 percent chose that option). Grad-school grads were the next most likely group to strongly agree (at 50 percent), and the least likely to do so were graduates of bachelor’s programs (at 40 percent).
Among graduates of four-year colleges, those majoring in health care disciplines and education gave their college experience the highest value ratings.
Graduates of liberal-arts fields assigned the lowest values to their post-secondary education among survey respondents. “Among these graduates, only 34 percent strongly agreed their degree was worth the expense, and just 36 percent strongly agreed it would benefit their careers,” said a report by Strada about the survey results.
Dave Clayton, senior vice president of consumer insights for Strada, says that liberal arts graduates reported higher satisfaction if they felt they had “excellent career advising” or were otherwise shown how their work in college did help advance their careers.
“If we want to change that perception of value, we’ve got to do better at aligning and connecting with careers,” he argued.
A growing number of studies are looking at the financial benefits of college graduation over time, as the cost of attending higher education rises and student debt continues to climb.
Just last week, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a ranking of 4,500 colleges based on their return on investment over different time periods.
Over a 40-year horizon, the institutions with the highest returns (defined as future income of students) tend to be private colleges (not surprisingly, Harvard University, MIT and Stanford are high on the list). But looking 10 years out, some colleges focusing on pharmacy and on maritime pursuits do even better than those top-tier schools (Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences tops the list).
Clayton, of Strada, says that students’ perception of the value of college was not so much about the amount of money that it could bring them, but how relevant it was to their future careers. For example, those majoring in education tended to have high satisfaction, even though people in education professions do not tend to be highly paid.
In other words, Clayon says, students tend to see higher education “as a means to an end, not an end in itself.”