College Value

April 30, 2014

I admit, I get exasperated every time I read another article that basically states the same ideas readers can find in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Neither my book nor I am a big enough name to be noticed by the “well-knowns,” and so I report when their blogs, articles, books, affirm Toward College Success.

Nancy Flanagan, a regular blogger for Education Today, recently wrote a piece titled: “College-Ready?” While she does discuss what makes a student “college ready,” she first challenges the idea that going to college, picking a college, and picking a career mostly should be based on rate of return. I completely agree. Not long ago, I wrote about the value of learning for learning sake, the value of stretching one’s cognitive abilities, the value of studying and discussing challenging and diverse subjects. Flanagan states that the primary trajectory toward college is: “1) Being college ready. 2) Being successful in college (completing a degree program, admission to the next level). 3) Using those degrees to leverage more money and prestige.”

If that is what a student wants for her life, then good for her. Hopefully she has the drive, the maturity, and all the skills to make it happen. But, of course, there are other paths to a fulfilling and successful life—vocations, certifications, apprenticeships, military—but these often carry the stigma that these paths are not as lucrative or fulfilling—two terms that should be defined by personal interests, goals, and priorities, not by the world at large.

Flanagan writes: “What do we expect to get out of a college degree? It’s very rare to hear policymakers or thought leaders talk about depth of disciplinary knowledge, exposure to diverse viewpoints and the art of argument, guidance in learning to create or solve problems–or lead. Instead, we get lifetime salary estimates as payoff for slogging our way to a credential. Nobody talks about personal satisfaction or the benefits of an educated populace.”


As for college readiness, Flanagan says that being college ready is having the “self awareness” to wisely choose a field of study and having a clear purpose for going. To be successful in college, Flanagan says, takes maturity, something she doubts many freshly graduated high school students possess. So what does she suggest? One is to take a gap year if you can find one that you can afford.


But mostly she suggests getting out and living. “Get a Joe job. Move out and live independently, or with roommates. Pay your own utility bills. Sponge off your parents for home-cooked leftovers and access to the washing machine. Travel to places you’ve never been. Think about how you’d like to live, as an adult. Dream. Read. Make mistakes.”


Great advice—found in Toward College Success as well. After such an exploration, maybe that student will decide it’s time for college.


To read Flanagan’s article:


Feb. 5, 2014

With the debate ongoing as to whether or not a college education is worth the expense, there appears to be a predominant opinion that students should major in engineering, business, science, or technology fields as opposed to any liberal arts field. The theory is that a liberal arts major is not marketable and offers little in return for the investment, regardless of whether or not the student is successful in his coursework.

A recently published report, “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment: A Report on Earnings and Long-Term Career Path,” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, discredits the notion that a liberal arts degree is worthless. The report includes data on “earnings, employment rates, graduate school earnings bumps, and commonly chosen professions” that shows such a degree is actually a good investment.

Authors Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly point out that we need workers in social science, public service, and teaching fields that, although they do not pay as well as engineering positions, they do pay decent, living wages.

The report states: “There is a much larger case—beyond the purely vocational or economic case—to be made for study in the humanities and social sciences, of course. These fields build the capacity to understand our collective histories, ideals, aspirations, and social systems. They are indispensable to the vitality of our democracy and to the future of global understanding, engagement, and community.”

In addition, the authors make the case that employers are looking for more than just a degree in a certain field. They are looking for individuals who are innovative, who engage in cultural diversity, and who can adapt and integrate across several fields and tasks. Liberal arts majors usually take a more varied and broad course load than those majoring in specific hard sciences or technology fields.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states that many employers are looking only for the degree itself as an indication of basic skill and maturity. “Even students majoring in areas such as the social sciences or humanities, which many consider employment wastelands, actually tend to do quite well in the labor market. For example, as reported in The College Majors Handbook: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 60 College Majors, social science majors with a bachelor’s degree registered a labor force participation rate of 84.1 percent, and those in the humanities registered a rate of 77.5 percent. In humanities, students earning a master’s degree increased that rate significantly to 83.3 percent.”

And not only that, not every college student wants to become an engineer or business executive; rather, she wants to further her education and pursue her particular dream. The student who is motivated by his studies and determined to move forward with his life, is the student who is ultimately successful regardless of his college major.

To read more about the study, go to

Sept. 18, 2012

Every day I seem to read another article or blog debating whether or not college is worth the cost. Today I read one from Brookings that states: “The answer is clear: Higher education is a much better investment than almost any other alternative, even for the ‘Class of the Great Recession’ (young adults ages 23-24).  In today’s tough labor market, a college degree dramatically boosts the odds of finding a job and making more money.” (

 Another from the LA Times quotes a study from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that states that even though there are 29,000 million jobs that earn at least $35,000 without requiring a college education, job seekers with at least a bachelor’s degree still have a much better chance of landing a job. “Nearly a quarter of young people with just a high school diploma are unemployed, compared with seven percent of college grads, according to the report. By 2020, nearly two-thirds of all jobs in the country will require education and training beyond high school.” (,0,1531459.story).

 And while such information still may not convince some people that a college education really is worth the investment, for those who already are convinced, it should be clear that it is more important than ever to be sure your student is ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. It is equally important that parents understand exactly what college readiness encompasses, and that it is something they should be thinking about when their teenagers are still years away from applying.

 Academics are, of course, vitally important to college readiness. I have written much about the efforts and debates around what it means to be academically ready to start college and succeed in college-entry classes. Starting in 9th grade, your teenager should be enrolled in classes that not only are required for high school graduation, but also give them the best chance to succeed in college. They should be in classes that require them to write, they should take four years of math and four years of science, if possible. They also should pursue courses that interest them—such as art and music—to round off their education and keep them interested.

 Parents and students also should research alternative programs offered by their school district—many in conjunction with local community colleges or businesses—that allows the student to earn college credit while in high school, allows them to have a job while in school, and/or starts them on the path to learning a trade. Such programs make a huge difference in many teenagers’ lives.

 Don’t forget, however, that your student will need other skills to succeed in college. Toward College Success describes in great detail all the non-academic skills your teenager needs to be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. Ask yourself: Is my teenager ready, willing, and able to:

  • Effectively manage time and responsibilities?
  • Resolve conflicts—with roommates, teachers, administrators?
  • Wake up in time for class?
  • Handle personal finances?
  • Self-advocate?
  • Stay safe?
  • Know when, how, and where to get help?
  • Follow academic and bureaucratic rules and regulations?

 That list should alert parents that the non-academic skills their kids need to master are not skills they will learn the summer before college begins. Middle school and up is the time to be guiding your student toward self reliance, confidence, and maturity, and Toward College Success.

July 17, 2012

Every day I read articles, blog posts, and interviews on how expensive college is, how more students are going into debt, and how few students are college ready when they graduate high school. It seems everyone is questioning the value of college and what it takes to be a successful college student.

 Two articles caught my attention this week. One was from The Christian Science Monitor that explains a recent study by Sallie Mae, the primary company that provides federally-guaranteed student loans, shows that parents are spending less to send their young adults to college, that students and parents are choosing less expensive schools, and that more students are living at home to save on college expenses. None of that surprises me and I would guess it doesn’t surprise much of anyone else. With our sluggish economy, cutbacks in state support of higher education, and the ever-rising cost of college, what else can people do? If students want that college credential, then they must figure out how to pay for it. Financing college is a part of college success.

 The other article was from explaining how the San Diego Unified School District in La Jolla, Calif., has proposed new graduation requirements that mandate two to four courses of career and technical education courses. If implemented, it is believed that the requirement would be the first of its kind in the country. Apparently, prosperous parents of the district protested and the district “spent hours to assure hundreds of parents that courses like computerized accounting, child development, and Web site design could be in the best interest of all students.”

 But in an online petition signed by 1,326 parents, the naysayers stated that “if you force the children of … highly intelligent and very academic parents to take less-rigorous VoTech coursework, you will hurt their chances of admission to undergrad and grad school.” Fran Shrimp, a parent leader in San Diego who organized the petition against mandating the courses, went on to say: “It’s not that we were against the career technical courses themselves, we were against making them a requirement. Getting accepted into a good college is so competitive that students need to pack their schedules with the most challenging courses available just to be in the running.”

 Kimberly Green, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, countered that “information technology, marketing, and business management all fall under technical education’s new wide umbrella, as do professions like engineering and architecture. Even the old standards, like auto shop, require a level of academics not needed in the past to keep up with increasingly computerized car engines.”

 I am no expert in designing school curriculums, but it seems to me that there is room for compromise in this proposal by the San Diego Unified School District. Career and technical education courses are sorely needed and statistics show that high school students enrolled in these programs have a high graduation rate. Students clearly need and want these options.

Likewise, students who are focused on college need the rigorous academic programs that help them secure a place in college and succeed once there. And the students who aren’t sure? They also need options. They need to take classes in both tracks to help them figure out which fits them best.

Try something like this: Every tenth grader must take a career options class—one that clearly considers vocational, academic, and military options (are there more?). Afterward, those students should have a choice of a VoTech track, a college track, or one that dips into both. The focus of the career options class and the various study tracks should be success—whether it is college, a vocational career, or the military. The VoTech track should give the student the basic academic classes he needs to apply to community college, in case he changes his mind in the future. College success or career success is the goal.

 To read the two articles:, and

May 22, 2012

Vanguard hosted a Webcast today called “College Savings 101.” The two speakers, Michael Corr, a senior manager for Vanguard’s Education Savings Group, and Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author and speaker on college savings and higher education, presented some great information. Their underlying messages were understand your options, start saving now, and don’t be sidetracked by the sticker price of college. College is financially doable if you take the time and make the effort to educate yourself.

 I basically say the same thing in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? But today’s Vanguard discussion offered great tips. One of the best places to start is on the College Board’s Web site, which offers so much college information that it will take a few days to view it all. The Web site directs you to information on FASFA, scholarships, cost calculations, and much more.

 O’Shaughnessy explained that, as of last year, colleges and universities are now required to post a “net price calculator” on their Web sites (College Board also offers a net price calculator). The calculators vary from school to school—some take just a couple of minutes, others require you to pull out information from your last tax return and other details. O’Shaughnessy said that the more time consuming the calculator, the more accurate it is. But the point is that the calculation will give you a decent estimate of the net cost of a particular school. With that information, you and your student can make a realistic list of school possibilities.

 But long before you start using the net price calculators, Corr’s advice to parents is to start saving now—no matter what the age of your child. For every dollar you save now, that is one less you have to borrow or come up with in the future. Corr recommends 529 accounts as the best college savings tool available. The 529 accounts usually require only a small initial deposit to open (some as small as $25), has no contribution limits, and are tax free as long as they are used for qualified post-secondary education expenses, which includes room and board, and, new this year, computers.

There are, of course, other college savings options that parents should research. I recommend you carefully consider the options and get advice from a financial planner or two before choosing which option is best for you.

 While some of us have savings for college, most of the time the student will need additional financial aid, whether it is scholarships and grants, or loans. Again, this will take research and advice from financial experts. Federal Stafford loans are best to secure because once the student graduates, the repayment schedule is based on that student’s income. No job—no payment.

 Stafford loans, however, are limited and may not be enough to cover all a student’s needs. If that is the case, students and parents may need to turn to private lending institutions, which while may offer a low interest rate, has more stringent repayment schedules. Again, check out the options, get advice from a financial expert, and apply to more than one loaning institution to compare rates and get the best deal.

 Check out the College Board at

Feb. 21, 2012

Maybe it is just that I am tuned into the subject, but it seems like I hear and read much in the media on the topic of rising college costs and the related question of whether college is worth the investment. I have discussed these topics here before, but the issues seem to be mounting toward a crisis. Who is being priced out of college, how are current college students surviving the economic crunch, and is the degree worth the debt?

 According to the College Board, tuition at public colleges and universities has increased almost 130 percent over the last 20 years, while most incomes have done nothing of the sort. Just as alarming, the amount of federal student aid dollars has not kept up with the surge in tuition or the lagging economy. There are still scholarships to be had, but as most middle-class Americans know, that middle-class income makes their students ineligible for most needs-based scholarships or grants—the most common type. Yet, those same students and families don’t happen to have several thousand dollars at their disposal for college costs. I would guess that most of the rapidly building college debt is undertaken by middle class families. Why? Because they do value that college education; because they do understand that a successful college experience complete with a degree equates to more career opportunity with higher wages.

 But, college graduates are having a hard time finding those jobs. We all know how people are struggling to find work, or find jobs that pay a decent, living wage. College graduates are no different. This problem leads the question: Is college a worthwhile investment? I’ve said before I think it is, but only if the student is ready, willing, and able to succeed in the college environment.

 If that student is ready, willing, and able to succeed in college, but money is preventing him from getting there, he can rest assured that college is not going away while he figures out a plan. Students can postpone college—a particularly good idea if that young person has a job and can save toward college expenses. Students can take less expensive community college courses that mesh with a work schedule. Students can pursue a two-year associate’s degree, then pursue apprenticeships and other opportunities. There are opportunities—but it is up to the student to be proactive and plot that path to success.

 The tools needed to find that path to success can and should be developed long before the student is faced with college financial decisions—one of the main focuses of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? If you do believe college is worth the investment, start insuring that your teenager will have the best chance to succeed. Teach and model the life skills she will need to succeed, be interested and involved in her academics, and let her be responsible. Encourage her toward that path to success.

 A couple of good articles on today’s topic:

Jan. 18, 2012

Last week I delivered a keynote speech on evaluating college readiness at a parent meeting of a nearby high school. After my speech, the parents headed to break-out sessions, and I waited around to answer questions and sell my book. While I waited, a father and math teacher at the school, who had not attended the meeting, came over to talk.

 He expressed concern that our society, schools, and academia, are pushing way too many kids toward higher education without determining their college readiness or the value of that investment. He believes that today’s undergraduate degree is yesterday’s high school degree and that having a BA or BS doesn’t offer much job security. He believes most young people go to college because it is expected and that our secondary schools do little to encourage or offer viable options and related skills. He said we all need to take a realistic look at what college graduates can expect once they graduate. In increasingly more cases, he believes the ever-rising cost of college is not a smart investment for young people.

 The debate over whether college is worth it has been argued in the last couple of years, primarily due to the high costs of attending, the dismal unemployment rate, and the sluggish economy. Most of these discussions do not include college readiness—but they should. A recent report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce ascertains that while employment and earnings for college graduates is down from past years, “extensive research, ours (the Center) included, finds that a college degree is still worth it.” The report continues: “A Bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings….Unemployment for students with new Bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma—and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.”

 The report goes on to explain that the choice of major makes a big difference. Some of the major findings in the report: “1) Choice of major substantially affects employment prospects and earnings. 2) People who make technology are better off than people who use technology. 3) In general, majors that are linked to occupations have better employment prospects than majors focused on general skills. But, some occupation specific majors, such as Architecture, were hurt by the recession and fared worse than general skills majors.”

 Regardless of this report or the opinion of the father/math teacher, I do believe college is worth it if the student is motivated, serious, and ready for college. And determining college readiness is, of course, the purpose of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? If that student is not ready for college, she needs to pursue something else—gap time, job, military, apprenticeships, etc.—until she decides she is motivated, serious, ready, willing, and able.

 Read the Center on Education and the Workforce’s report at: