There's More Value In a Degree Than Report Showed

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, March 25, 2013

The recent College Measures report aimed to give students a clear look at what they will earn after college. Despite good intentions by the authors and the state, the report paints an incomplete picture that is misleading for students and families. Its "research" would be hard pressed to earn a passing grade in a CU classroom.

We in higher education must be accountable for the education we deliver. Criticizing College Measures can be perceived as killing the messenger. But in this case, the report is so obviously flawed (by its authors' admission) it demands scrutiny and response.

Findings are based on unemployment insurance information provided by the state's Department of Labor and Employment. Yet the report does not include graduates working out of state, the self-employed and those working for the federal government (Colorado's largest employer). More than one-third of the 30,000 students at our campus in Boulder are non-residents and most will return home after graduation. They don't count in the data set, nor do Coloradans who work out of state.

The study also doesn't include those who attend graduate or professional school, about a fifth of our students. Additionally, the data account for only a quarter of Colorado's graduates, hardly representative of our graduates.

It's clear that a college education is an investment that pays substantial dividends over a lifetime. But like most good investments, its value must be considered over the long haul, not over the year the study considered (additionally, its time frame paralleled a significant recession). Other measures that take a longer view provide better insight. Smartmoney.com found in 2012 that a degree from CU-Boulder is rated in the top 20 nationally for return on investment. Payscale.com rates a CU degree as one of the top degrees for mid-career earnings.

College Measures' author also has been derisive of a liberal arts education, saying in one interview that those graduates live in their parents' basement and cannot feed themselves. But you don't have to look far to find successful people in every walk of life whose liberal arts degree has served them exceedingly well. A liberal arts education, which prepares graduates for a variety of endeavors, is also a springboard to graduate and professional degree programs. And if we buy the notion that graduates will have several jobs, if not careers, in their working lives, then calculating a one-year return based on major is not an accurate measure.

The shortcomings of College Measures should not be an indictment of the idea that students should know what is ahead after graduation, but we have to be clear that no single study paints a complete picture.

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