Students around the world are investing greater amounts of time in their studies and application processes in order to get into colleges that will ultimately grant them a bachelor’s degree, which is seen by the world as the “golden ticket” to financial freedom and job security. While a bachelor’s degree does grant access to a wider pool of job opportunities by way of showcasing the student’s intellectual credentials and determination to complete a four-year degree program, students are now realizing that their bachelor’s degree does not guarantee a job offer. In fact, a degree is not a golden ticket, but more comparable to a raffle ticket in that students are paying loads of money for an education where there is no guarantee of security or qualification in a changing job market. As more students realize the qualifications companies require, especially specific skillsets, students are becoming less incentivized to obtain the traditional 4-year college degree, causing a shift to nondegree training or certification programs. This raises the daunting question: Is vocation the new motivation?
According to a 3-year consumer survey (conducted by Gallup and the Strada Education Network) graduates of nondegree vocational programs said that their postsecondary credentials were worth the cost and made them an attractive job candidate more often than graduates of terminal bachelor’s degree programs. Among respondents who were graduates of nondegree vocational programs, such as certificate or nondegree training programs offered by two-year colleges, 70 percent agreed that their education was worth the cost, compared to 62 percent of graduates of terminal bachelor’s degree programs. That gap widened among respondents who agreed strongly: 57 percent of vocational and technical graduates compared to 40 percent of terminal bachelor’s degree holders.
In addition, the survey also analyzed responses based on fields of study, uncovering that majors directly associated with specific jobs received higher “self-reported” value. For example, graduates who received degrees in healthcare/medical-related fields expressed that their education was worth it in terms of both cost (52 percent) and job availability/training (72 percent). On the other hand, graduates in the liberal arts were less optimistic in their responses, with 34 percent strongly agreeing that their degree was worth the cost and 36 percent agreeing that it would benefit their career. It is crucial to note that many of the nation’s top institutions such as Harvard College, Stanford University, Williams College and Amherst College are liberal arts oriented, illustrating that reputation does not mean success in the increasingly competitive job market. Below is a chart depicting the cost value vs. career value that respondents believed they received from their respective degree majors:
As supporting evidence, technology companies are increasingly filling higher paying jobs that do not require a degree. Google, arguably one of the most successful technology companies, announced the expansion of its training program at the community college level on October 16, in an effort to ensure that students are “work ready.” By doing this, Google is making students more marketable, while opening the door to a stream of high paying jobs without a degree requirement. In Dallas, the IT industry is at the top of the list in terms of growth with jobs in the field boasting an average pay of more than $80,000 a year, which is more than the median salary for a professional with a bachelor’s degree at $70,000 a year.
The shift in job requirements from college degrees to having a set of skills that is applicable to a specific role is astounding. The view that “one must go to college to be successful” has been increasingly mitigated as more and more students find they are not the most attractive job applicants post college. That is not to say that a college degree doesn’t hold weight, but more that degrees in specific fields like medical, engineering, and finance yield better results in the job search process. In a world where technology is advancing, vocational roles that can keep up with consumer demand are a must and are the new motivation.