When they were younger, the vast majority of today’s working professionals probably believed they needed a college degree to be successful.
Depending on their chosen career path, many people were also told that working in their field requires a master’s or doctorate degree, or that obtaining one will give them an advantage over other applicants.
It’s true that many jobs and professions require at least a bachelor’s degree to even be considered for a position. And yet, the value of higher education is changing rapidly, leaving some to wonder if the cost of an advanced degree program is worth the debt many students accrue while studying at a top-rated college or university.
For Many, Higher Education Is An Investment In The Future
According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, pursuing higher education is, on average, worth the investment, even when one has to take out student loans. Several studies have shown that Americans with bachelor’s degrees earn about $30,000 more per year on average than those with only a high school education. Americans with bachelor’s degrees are also more likely to have health insurance through their employer, earn more over their lifetime and are more likely to report their health being good or excellent than people with a high school diploma.
Many who have obtained bachelor’s degrees agree with these statistics. A 2015 Gallup survey revealed that 52 percent of alumni at public universities believe that college was worth the cost of tuition. However, only 38 percent of recent graduates — those who completed their degree between 2006 and 2015 — said that they thought college was worth the cost. The survey also found that graduates with higher rates of undergraduate student loan debt were less likely to report that college was worth the investment.
Why Attitudes Toward Higher Education Are Changing
If research shows that getting a degree does have many long-term career and financial benefits, why do so many graduates — especially Millennials — feel otherwise?
Some recent graduates feel that the student loan debt they accrued while in college places a heavy burden on their finances in the early stages of their career. In certain instances, college graduates have trouble pursuing a master’s degree or Ph.D. program because of their high student loan debt. Americans with large amounts of student loans might delay buying a home, or struggle with the down payment, due to having a poor or damaged credit rating. Surprisingly, the majority of people who have difficulty paying back their student loans have relatively small amounts of debt — half owe less than $16,400.
It’s easy to look at the increasing amount of student loan debt in America — which now totals $1.3 trillion — and conclude that the cost of college tuition has become too expensive and isn’t worth it for many individuals.
However, the return on investment for a college education varies widely depending on a plethora of demographic factors. Students who come from low-income families might have a harder time completing their degrees and paying back their loans. Those who obtain a degree in highly sought-after industries, like technology and engineering, might have an easier time paying back their student loans quickly. Entry-level salaries in these fields can start at upwards of $60,000 per year or even $100,000 annually.
Gambling on a Graduate Degree or MBA
For working professionals, the decision to pursue a master’s degree can be a tricky one. The average cost of a graduate degree program is nearly $30,000 per year at public universities and almost $40,000 at private colleges. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, someone with a master’s degree typically earns $400,000 more over their lifetime than someone with a bachelor’s degree.
Other factors can come into play for mid-level employees who are seeking more educational opportunities related to their field or industry. Some professionals can’t take the time off work to enroll in a graduate degree program, while others may have parenting or family obligations that prevent them from pursuing a full-time course of study. For some people getting their MBA, the hardest part isn’t the tuition or fees, it’s the high-paying job they have to give up in order to complete their business degree program.
The Rise in Popularity of Non-Degree Certificate Programs
Despite the many benefits of higher education and the increased earning potential many obtain after completing their degree, there’s still a sense that the cost of these programs are simply just too high. Some people feel that it’s hard to determine exactly how their degree will help them advance in your career, and taking out a large student loan can feel like a big financial risk — even if you’re obtaining a graduate degree in a very in-demand industry, like healthcare.
To combat these issues, colleges and universities have begun to expand their options for career-level professionals who are already in the workforce. Graduate certificate programs are now growing in popularity. In the 2013-’14 academic year, nearly 65,000 graduate certificates were awarded in the U.S.
Short-course, non-degree or graduate certificate programs allow professionals to learn new skills, grow in their careers and further their post-undergraduate education without having to apply for a master’s degree. Individuals who participate in a certificate program offered by a college or university are better able to balance their studies with their job. These certificate programs are typically far less costly than obtaining a graduate degree, which is one of the reasons more people are choosing this option over getting a master’s degree.
Educational Opportunities Designed for Working Professionals
The reasons why more working professionals are signing up for certificate programs vary, but many are doing so to improve their career prospects and learn new leadership skills. As companies and businesses demand that workers adapt quickly to changes in their industry, employees are starting to realize they must grow their knowledge and seek out new educational opportunities in order to boost their earning potential and stay relevant in today’s workforce.
Vail Centre is a leader in providing entry-level, mid-career and executive-level professionals with certificate programs and accredited courses that help individuals acquire new leadership and management skills in both the hospitality industry and the nonprofit sector. At Vail Centre, esteemed professors from some of the best colleges and universities in the country — including Yale University, Cornell University and Duke University — are flown in to teach three-day or weeklong seminar courses right here on the Vail campus.
Upcoming certificate programs for Summer 2017 include a Nonprofit Management Intensive Track Program offered by Duke University, which will be held June 25-30. For more information on Vail Centre’s summer course offerings, contact us or email Todd Wallis at