Schooled Reporting on education

Banking on a bachelor’s?

Education | New report suggests a four-year degree isn’t as solid an investment as many students think
by Leigh Jones
Posted 10/25/17, 03:37 pm

College degrees began to lose their luster in 2008 when the economy crashed and recent graduates found themselves with a lot of debt and few job prospects. Despite nearly 10 years of angst over the student debt crisis and the value of now exorbitantly expensive college degrees, Americans remain enamored with higher education. Many parents still believe college holds the key to achieving the American dream.

But a new study from American Enterprise Institute scholars Mark Schneider and Rooney Columbus suggests students can make more money with less investment through associates degrees or subbaccalaureate certification programs. While bachelor’s degree–holders make more money on average than those without, not all degrees carry the same weight.

“The important question, thus, is not whether degrees have value but what types of knowledge and skills are in greatest demand and are, in turn, rewarded in the labor market,” Schneider and Columbus write. “Framed this way, the degree a student pursues means much less than commonly held: It is the outcome that matters. And once we can measure more precisely what the labor market actually rewards, we can begin to identify specific institutions, programs, and fields of study that offer better (or worse) ways for college students to launch their careers and earn good wages.”

The researchers looked at data from three states: Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. In Florida, graduates with the highest median income five years after leaving school held associates degrees and worked as physicians assistants, making about $112,200 a year. Those with bachelor’s degrees in health science fields came in second, making $106,900 a year. Of the 16 degrees with which graduates earned more than $75,000 a year, three were associates and three came from apprenticeships. All of the bachelor’s degrees involved engineering or computer science. Students in all three apprenticeship programs made more than $80,000 a year, with elevator mechanics bringing in the most—$96,600 a year.

Using data from Texas, Schneider and Columbus estimated return on investment (ROI) over a 20-year period and came up with a list of 39 programs that boosted graduates over the $1 million mark. Of those, 19 offered associate degrees, and six provided subbaccalaureate certificates from community colleges. A bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Texas at Austin provided the best ROI, $1.6 million. But an associate degree in fire protection from Austin Community College came in a close second at $1.5 million.

Schneider and Columbus offer several caveats to their conclusions. First, associates degree programs tend to have lower rates of completion than four-year degrees, and students who do finish tend to come from more affluent backgrounds. Second, it’s hard to discount the inherent marketability of degree-holders from their degrees, meaning the fields of study may partially reflect the success of those who enter them, rather than conferring that success automatically. And third, some of the highly paid careers that don’t require bachelor’s degrees have relatively few workers, which could help drive up their earnings.

The researchers also acknowledge other studies that have suggested vocational training doesn’t pay off in the long run because workers have a harder time adjusting when their career fields experience significant changes. But their report offers high school students some important food for thought as they contemplate their futures. Those psychology courses might provide some entertaining classroom discussions, but they probably won’t help pay back the money students borrow to take them.

Getty Images/Photo by Joe Raedle Getty Images/Photo by Joe Raedle Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Oct. 19.

Spencer sues Ohio State over speech denial

White supremacist Richard Spencer filed suit against Ohio State University (OSU) on Sunday after the school refused his request to speak on campus. OSU is one of the only universities so far this year to deny Spencer. An OSU attorney said administrators made the decision after consulting with law enforcement officials and watching what happened last week during Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and put the National Guard on standby in case of violence. But the event remained mostly peaceful, with counterprotesters outnumbering Spencer’s supporters. The protesters eventually booed Spencer off stage.

OSU said it valued freedom of speech but could not accommodate Spencer’s speech because of “substantial risks to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption.” University of Florida officials estimated security costs for Spencer’s event there could top $600,000.

Michigan attorney Kyle Bristow filed suit on Spencer’s behalf. He successfully sued Auburn University earlier this year, clearing the way for Spencer to speak there. He also has suits pending against Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University.

“I guarantee that wherever I am, whatever circumstances may arise, the Alt-Right shall enjoy the right to free speech,” Bristow said Sunday. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Bev Horne/Daily Herald Associated Press/Photo by Bev Horne/Daily Herald Wheaton College football player Samuel TeBos (left) and his attorney Todd Pugh at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton, Ill., on Monday

Wheaton football players plead not guilty

Four of the five Wheaton College football players charged in a hazing incident that happened last year pleaded not guilty in an Illinois courtroom Monday. The fifth player will attend his arraignment hearing Nov. 13. The students are accused of kidnapping a fellow player from his dorm room, binding his hands and feet, and threatening to sexually assault him. They eventually left him half-naked on an off-campus baseball field. They are charged with aggravated battery, mob action, and unlawful restraint. Although administrators at the Christian university knew about the incident, they did not remove the students from the football team until prosecutors filed charges earlier this year. One of the students’ attorneys on Monday asked the judge to lift a gag order in the case so that they could deny the victim’s claims about sexual assault threats. —L.J.

A crack in the universe?

How many people think they’re smart enough to understand Stephen Hawking's doctoral thesis? Enough to crash Cambridge University’s website. The British college posted Hawking’s 1966 thesis online Monday to mark Open Access Week. The website couldn’t handle the demand and promptly shut down. Hawking, who wrote the paper when he was 24, said he hoped it would “inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos.” —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

Read more from this writer