Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll found that “no other institution has shown a larger drop in confidence over the past three years than higher education.” Now less than half of Americans (48%) express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education, down nine percentage points from 2015. While the poll did not ask why, earlier findings from the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey indicate that college graduates are more likely to believe they received a high-quality education that was worth the cost if they now consider the courses they took to be relevant to their work and daily lives.
With 84% of Gen Z agreeing it’s easier to be successful with a college degree than without (according to a New America study), good career outcomes are a key expectation of prospective students. But in a recent Chronicle commentary, Scott Carlson posited that maybe it isn’t actually helping when colleges imply their degree-holders have nearly unlimited career options. Being told “you can do almost anything with this degree” could be paralyzing if you don’t have a clue where to start, Carlson noted.
If a college really wants its implied promise of career success to be viewed as authentic, then it needs to guide students in finding a relevant path through college toward career. Integrated counseling that spans all of a student’s years in college should strive to give classroom learning, co-curricular experiences, and experiential learning a unified direction, since relevance is such a key indicator of value.
What’s more, providing integrated guidance even before students enroll can have a real impact on whether the college is considered to be worth its cost. For example, many families are wary of incurring too much student loan debt, with the annual Sallie Mae “How America Pays for College” report revealing that less than two-thirds of families who did end up taking out loans had planned in advance to borrow. And only about a quarter of student loan borrowers had researched a recommended debt-to-income ratio for the total student loan amount to know what is a reasonable amount to borrow. With college value so related to student debt in families’ minds, colleges that can successfully integrate financial planning into admissions counseling are better able to shape perceptions of their institution’s value.
Confidence in Institutions
The drop in confidence in higher education has occurred across the political spectrum of respondents, but most sharply among Republicans. (Gallup)
Importance of Career Counseling
Scott Carlson suggests methodically connecting students with alumni or community members who can share how to get started in a profession. (Chronicle)
College Funding Sources
In the aggregate, 26% of the cost of attending four-year private colleges was met through borrowing, even though 35% of families did not take out loans. (Sallie Mae)
While going to college has been a “green-lighted” aspiration for many years, there is no question that the marketplace is now proceeding with more caution in their decision-making process. A college must communicate its investment value effectively or else students and families will apply the brakes instead of choosing that college. The “go” light will definitely shine a brighter shade of green if all members of the campus community become more proactive about communicating their institution’s value proposition with organizational intent and institutional purpose.