What do Americans value in their education? We haven’t really known, because too often learners have been absent from the conversation. So the Strada Education Network partnered with Gallup to ask more than 340,000 individuals about their experiences with education and work after high school. The Education Consumer Value Equation gives them a voice in what delivers career and cost value. Learners are clear that, more than earnings and wages, the value of their education is tied to its relevance in their work and lives.
Relevant courses, not wages have the strongest link to how learners assess the value of their education experience.
Among those with terminal bachelor’s degrees, graduates saw greater career and cost value in fields traditionally associated with careers, such as healthcare and education — even if those careers are less lucrative financially.
Those who started postsecondary education and did not complete saw the least value from their experience with only a quarter of them agreeing it was a worthwhile experience, suggesting that we must continue the efforts to improve postsecondary completion in this country.
When students believe they are provided high-quality, applied learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising, their assessment of value increases regardless of their program of study.
Strada Education Network believes the best way to understand whether someone’s education is valuable is to ask them. For more than three years, we’ve listened to over 340,000 Americans tell us about their experiences with education after high school. We’ve asked learners whether they felt their education was worth the cost, and if they felt it made them an attractive job candidate. We call the relationship between those measures the Education Consumer Value Equation. It’s a new, learner-centered model that expands our understanding of what makes an education valuable from the perspective of the individuals who pursue it.
The insights it provides are important for educators, employers and policymakers to consider. For example, as we focused our analysis on the responses of more than 90,000 Americans who pursued postsecondary education during the past two decades, we found their perceptions of value vary significantly across pathways. Individuals are more likely to strongly agree that their education is worth the cost and that it makes them an attractive job candidate when they can most clearly connect their education to their work. We also see this strong connection between learning and careers when students find their courses are relevant to work, when they receive high-quality, applied-learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising.
In an environment of declining enrollments and an unsteady cost-benefit analysis, learner insights offer guidance and solutions to increase the value of higher education. Learners tell us they value their education when they can clearly see its connection with careers.
Learners’ voices offer guidance that can transform the value equation in postsecondary education by building on the traditional economic measures of value. It’s time to include learners in the conversation.
Authors and Contributors
When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.
Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.
Among students who have work-based learning experiences, those with paid internships stand out for their increased earning power, confidence in themselves, and recognition of the value of their education.
Two centuries after the first historically Black colleges and universities were founded, the 101 accredited HBCUs in operation today continue to deliver on their legacy of expanding educational opportunity for Black students that leads to successful and fulfilling lives.
As a field, higher education has experienced a continuing evolution in how to measure success. For nearly five decades success efforts were focused on access, followed by the past decade and a half pursuing completion, and the field now has a growing focus on the value of a degree and student outcomes beyond completion.
Strada’s prior research on undergraduate perceptions of the value of their education demonstrates that students value their education most when they receive support to connect their education and career interests.
The baccalaureate degree remains the surest path to economic mobility, employment stability, and a host of associated social benefits.
The declines in postsecondary education enrollment made headlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but what does that mean for the students behind those statistics?
Nondegree credentials have been growing rapidly for decades. Questions about their quality and value, however, remain.
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