2016 Annual Conference Blog: Wednesday, January 13th

Wednesday, January 13

Dr. Lucido kicked off the conference by thanking the sponsors and staff that make the conference possible. Each year, he noted, this conference serves as an opportunity to take a deep dive into a topic of timeliness and importance. Over the years, he reflects, we have asked ourselves to define the meaning of merit; we have gone beyond the usual with a look at non-academic/non-cognitive factors, and we have examined the future of college admissions. It is time, he continued, for an examination of cost, aid, and sustainable solutions. We start by asking the basic question: Is College Worth It?

With this, Dr. Lucido introduced Martin Van Der Werf.

6:00 pm – OPENING ADDRESS: Is College Worth It? Cost, Value, and Workforce Projections

Martin Van DVanderwerf_photoer Werf, Associate Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

Van Der Werf began by noting that we have experienced 1.7% drop in college enrollment in the recent semester, which is expected along with economic recovery. The drop of enrollment, according the Wall Street Journal article Van Der Werf read, was related to a perception that college is not necessary to be successful. The perceived success of college dropouts (collegedropoutshalloffame.com) in recent years aligns with an increase in the cost of college and the fear of not being able to pay for it. The question used to be “Will I be smart enough?” and today the question is “Can I afford it?”

Van Der Werf notes that people talk about cost, but not value. A high price tag leads to avoidance behavior. People begin to think and talk about how they are going to build their career without college education.

Next, Van Der Werf moved into an overview of Five Reasons College is Worth the Cost:

  1. The college wage premium continues to increase: In 1970, 10,000,000 people had college degrees. Now 50,000,000 have them. The wage premium has doubled and the number of people who benefit has quintupled. People with a Bachelor’s degree make more than 50% of all of the income in the economy, although they only make up 1/3 of the volume. People with an Associate’s degree will make $500,000 more than someone with a high school diploma over the course of a career.
  2. Recent college graduates are NOT stuck in dead-end jobs. At the height of the recession of 2009, the unemployment rate for college grads was 10.9%. But, Van Der Werf notes, recent grads often have high unemployment rates. It takes them a while (up to 3 years) to work their way into their career of choice. They may intern, moonlight, or do something else to build their case for a job. By 2012 the unemployment rate for recent college grads was 5.5%. Another myth is that people who were recently hired would be the first let go. The research does not support this. Only about 9% of recent college grads were stuck in dead-end job, even at the height of the recession.
  3. Unemployment rates decline with age and each level of educational attainment.
  4. Economy is eliminating high school jobs. Long-term change in our economy, from agrarian, to manufacturing, to high-tech/info-based has been roughly paralleled with education levels of the people in that society. Right now, high school workers are being squeezed out of the economy. Since 2010, the economy has created 7 million jobs for people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher and 2.3 million jobs for people with some college or an Associate Degree. Only 266,000 jobs have been created for people with a high school diploma or less. The economy, for the least educated among us seems hopeless because, frankly, it is.
  5. Jobs of the future will require postsecondary credentials. By 2020, 65% of jobs nationwide will require some education or training beyond high school. In 1970 44% of top three income deciles were college graduates, today that number is 81%.

Van Der Werf continued by asking, What should we make of the idea that people can make it without college? Bad economic times tend to have bad “hangovers”, with the thought being that this will go on forever. There is a reluctance to believe and engage in higher education. This is, however, short-term thinking. Individuals need to think of college as a life-long investment decision.

Van Der Werf shifted gears to the topic of college accountability and transparency. It is a topic that has been brewing for a long time and should be talked about more. What is the value of college? How do people view it? Van Der Werf showed a clip from “Animal House”, noting that the “Knowledge is Good” mantra that sets the tone for the movie is not enough for the public. They are looking more for accountability- they want to force you to prove outcomes.

Amid this talk of fundamental change, how has higher education responded? Van Der Werf suggests that they have not responded well. Education is the pathway to the middle class. As people put more into this institution, they want to know what they will get for it, and “knowledge is good” is not enough. Van Der Werf suggests that college/universities must become more transparent. While higher education talks about the “preeminence of the degree”, the public wants to know about the bottom line.

Next Van Der Werf showed a clip of Sir Robinson on creativity (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity) suggesting that degrees aren’t worth anything. Van Der Werf notes that this 19-minute talk is the most popular TED Talk with 36 million vies and was recorded 10 years ago. He suggested that higher education needs to worry about this. He continues by referencing Selingo’s book, which suggests “Google doesn’t care about degrees, they are about what you know.” The take-away is that the college degree does not mean as much as it used to mean.

Van Der Werf suggests that higher education institutions join with other colleges and universities to agree to metrics that measure the quality of graduates. If discussions related to the value and worth of college is happening, the public doesn’t know about it. You need to talk about quality and outcomes. Defending Liberal Arts, for example, should be grounded in the outcomes to which that course of study leads.