As college tuitions continue to increase faster than inflation, the value of a college education is subject of intense debate. Is it worth it?
While studies suggest that yes, in most cases, it still pays to go get a college education, the prospect of taking on tens of thousands in student loans to pay for a degree can feel like a ridiculous gamble. After all, in our still shaky economy, a degree does not guarantee a job.
U.S. workers attitudes towards higher education reflect this conflicted reality, according to a recent survey by career website Glassdoor. While 82 percent of U.S. college educated employees believe that their level of education has helped their careers, a sizeable 48 percent of them either strongly agree or agree with the statement 'My specific degree is not very relevant to the job I do today/the most recent job I've held.'
And while a degree may open doors, it’s not a trump card. Over 3 in 4 college educated workers surveyed agreed with the statement “Employers value work experience more than education,” and somewhat surprisingly (or comfortingly, depending on your perspective) 80 percent of working college graduates polled said they’d never been asked about their GPA in an interview.
The Glassdoor survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive in March and surveyed 2,059 adults ages 18 and older, out of which 996 were employed full time or part time. Out of all the respondents, 39 percent had a college degree, 20 percent had completed some college, 33 percent had just a high school diploma and 8 percent completed a job specific training program after high school. Age-wise, here's the breakdown for all respondents: 18 to 34-year-olds (28 percent), 35 to 44-years (16 percent), 45 to 55-years (19 percent), 55-64-years old (18 percent) and those over the age of 65-years (19 percent).
While a degree is can be prerequisite for many white-collar jobs, a college education rarely adequately prepares graduates for the reality of the workforce says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor career and workplace expert. “It’s not exactly a secret that when you send in your resume, it’s scanned by a machine to find the initials BA or BS,” he says. Often, it’s the degree that’s important, not the major.
As a result, he finds, companies hire individuals who have a college degree but are lacking in relevant industry-specific skills. Through internal training, external boot camps, or simply hiring more experienced employees, companies are footing the bill to close this education gap.
Eventually corporate America will realize that it is more cost-efficient to hire candidates with suitable industry-specific experience, rather than focusing solely on a bachelor’s degree, he predicts. And when that happens, we’ll see a seismic shift in our national approach to education: less reliance on traditional four-year colleges, and more interest in online education as well as apprenticeship and two-year training programs.
The Glassdoor survey supports this sentiment. Seventy-two percent of surveyed employees – including 64 percent of those with a college degree – agreed with the statement “I believe training programs or apprenticeships to acquire specific skills are more valuable than pursuing a degree.”
Still, until companies stop using a bachelor’s degree at a four-year intuition as a litmus test, swapping a college degree for an alternative approach to education after high school is a risky bet.
Rueff sees small signs of change – he points to the fact that companies are increasingly tailoring their hiring techniques, such as evaluating job candidates through crowdsourced assessment tests rather than relying solely on resumes.
He also hopes that as millennials – a generation intimately familiar with the burden of student debt – begin to infiltrate middle and upper management, they will value and reward alternative forms of higher education, including apprenticeships and online degrees.
“For the longest time, the easiest way to decide whether or not someone was qualified was whether or not he or she had a college degree,” Rueff says. He’d like to see that change.