The Case for Higher Education: Repositioning Our Educational Focus

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(Courtesy of The Yellow Duck Procedure)

For the past three years the idea of higher education and its value proposition has been pushed into the limelight and held under a microscope for further inspection.  Is “an education” worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to add the new title (BA, MA, PhD etc.) to a resume?

More national news articles about students suing their universities and colleges because of the lack of job opportunities has increased and gained media recognition, but are theses students being fair for blaming their schools for the lack of employment prospects?

Well some of the marketing facts do point to schools essentially branding and packaging their “hub of education” as the answer to not only a job but a career with job fulfillment and increased pay. This goes for vocational colleges with catchy ad commercials as well. Each school totes their statistics about the earning potential of a graduate with a degree verses a graduate without one. In reality this fact about higher education being the ingredient for improving earning potential is still true…at least on paper.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, those with higher degrees do earn more than those with just a high school diploma but who deserves that recognition? Most schools cannot take credit for the jobs their students find. “I found my first job through a colleague of my mom” says Amanda a recent graduate – this is the same answer received by many of today’s graduates. Statistics prove that 90% of those who are currently employed found their jobs through referrals from someone that they know or networked with. “The educational institution just gives you the qualifying credentials to get the job, it doesn’t actually get you the job says Jessica Luman a frustrated 2010 college graduate.

So what can colleges and universities around the country do to Market their true strengths and give graduates the support they are looking for:

  1. Well we here at YDPR believe in product quality, so make sure you have an answer to this question, What does your school so best? Highlight that and play it up!

Does your school offer attentive deans or professors that believe in mentorship? If you are not a “name brand school,” I suggest you make this your first priority. This serves the university in many ways, students that feel nurtured nurture their alma mater right back by giving financial donations as well as being actively involved in strong alumni networks. This always boosts the reputation of a university (think about increasing your position on the “Best Schools” list).

  1. Promote what the buyer (the student) gets from you the Seller (the school), and that has to be more than just the degree.

As more alternative forms of education continue to gain positive recognition – mediabistro, and some very cool tech online education hubs like code academy and MBA IQ – Why should a student buy your name and your brand without an adequate promise on a return on investment? Former paypal CEO Peter Thiel has launched Breakthrough Philanthropy, a fellowship opportunity for 24 young high school students to pursue a chance to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Young minds get to do work and earn experience and money instead of going straight to college. Each fellow will receive $100,000 dollars as well as mentorship for two years. This is obviously still a once in a lifetime opportunity for a very small number of students, but what if more and more companies or philanthropists took this approach to foster young minds and gain effective employees four years prior to when they would traditionally get them? Why wouldn’t more students pursue this option? Fiscally more sound in the long run right? If you don’t think so, prove them wrong!

  1. Build relationships with potential employers for your buyers (again the students…and their parents).

I know college is not selling the product “you get a job,” but that is the implication with obtaining a degree, along with skills and the ability to absorb information. That’s wonderful, but in today’s reality being able to expound on Henry David Thoreau is just not good enough to prove the case for higher education. Smart unemployed people are not able to contribute back to society or to that university endowment.

It is not career services job to spoon-feed students job opportunities, but it is career services job to prepare students so that their odds are favorable. It is important to develop the whole student, intellectually and socially. There is no way of getting around this one, so just build it into the provost’s curriculum plan for the educational year.

So what do you think? We want to hear from you.


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