Is College Still the Best Route to a Successful Career? One Expert Says It’s Complicated

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Rising tuition costs and crippling student loan debt have left many students wondering if college is still the best option to prepare them for the workforce. According to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, higher education enrollment fell to new lows this past spring — a one-year decline of 3.5%, seven times worse than the decline a year earlier.

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However, when it comes to your career, is college still the best way to go? Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, Director and Research Professor at Georgetown University, says it’s complicated.

He argues that there are two factors that complicate this matter. The first is the value of a four-year college degree over a high school degree. The college wage premium between a four-year college degree and a high school degree has doubled since the mid-80s and into the 90s, however; that number has now stagnated. The second factor is that what you make depends on what you gave — a shift much more powerful than the change in the value of the bachelor’s degree over the high school degree.

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Based on Dr. Carnevale’s allegations, career success depends on what you take and what you study rather than the degree itself.

“What it means for higher educations, which is arguable revolutionary, is that the institution matters less. While higher institutions still do matter, what really matters now is the program,” he adds.

Roughly 40% of people with bachelor’s degrees, depending on their field of study, make more than the average graduate degree, asserted Dr. Carnevale. He also noted that 30% of graduates with a two-year degree make more than the average BA degree. However, those who pursued certifications, such as an HVAC certification and training, make more than graduates with a two-year or a four-year degree.

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“There is a subtle shift away from looking at higher education as a set of institutions,” says Carnevale. “What matters more, from an economic point, is what you take when you get there. That’s what changed and the world still hasn’t caught up with it.”

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About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.
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