College Is Worth the Cost. Here's How Schools Can Prove It.

College Is Worth the Cost. Here's How Schools Can Prove It.
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A growing number of people want to know if a college education is a worthwhile investment. Many prospective students, especially those who would be the first in their families to go to college, doubt the value of a college degree. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 57 percent of people without college degrees think college isn't worth it.

That's a frightening statistic – competing in a global economy increasingly requires a college degree. Schools need to better demonstrate the return on investment in higher education so that potential students don't wonder, "What am I getting for all this money?"

Research shows the value of a college education. According to a Georgetown University study, college graduates earn $1 million more in lifetime earnings than high school graduates. The choice of a college major is critical as well. There is a difference of $3.4 million in lifetime earnings between the highest and lowest paying college majors.

Students who come from families with college graduates see the benefits of a college education every day through their parents and community. But for students from less privileged backgrounds, figuring out the benefits of college can be daunting.

Colleges and universities are failing to demonstrate to these students that their degrees lead to job placements and higher future salaries. To restore belief in the value of higher education, colleges should offer a baseline level of information, in a concise manner, which demonstrates the outcomes of their academic programs. The information would include the following: the cost of a degree, the likely job prospects and salary outcomes for particular programs in particular markets, which courses are needed to graduate and the likely debt burden a student would take on. With this information, students can make informed choices.

As president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education, a network of colleges and universities, I led our institutions through an arduous, year-long process to develop and implement our Student Commitments, a set of practices designed to demonstrate the academic quality and value of our programs. The Commitments include a one-page disclosure with information on program performance metrics, such as program costs, debt and default rates, undergraduate earnings by program and, for healthcare and medical programs, licensure data.

This information helps students decide whether a particular academic program is right for them and gives them the support they need once they matriculate. We intend to review and refresh our Student Commitments each year.

To date, no other schools have undertaken such initiatives. That needs to change.

Restoring students' belief in the value of a college education should be educators' top priority. It'd be tragic if institutions of higher education fail to demonstrate the value of college to those who would benefit the most from earning a degree.

Lisa W. Wardell is the president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education.

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