Changing the Value Equation in Higher Education

How learners rate the value of their education pathways

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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.

Key Findings

American adults place the highest value on educational programs that closely align with career pathways.

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 Education Consumer Value Equation is the relationship between what an individual perceives to be the cost value and career value of their education.

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.

Individuals who majored in fields that are directly connected with specific jobs saw greater career and cost value in their education than individuals who majored in fields of study that develop broader skills, which they may not directly correlate with a job.

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

Carol D’Amico, Ed.D.

Executive Vice President, Learning & Policy
Strada Education Network

Dave Clayton, Ph. D.

Senior Vice President
Strada Education Network

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.

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