As a father of two college students attending schools roughly two hours away in different directions, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of those long drives.
Before dropping my daughter or son off — like I just did recently — the time in the car together is good for hearing all about their lives on campus — what their class schedule is like, which professors they like, what their friends are doing, what they’re thinking about their futures and so on.
And on the way back, the drive is especially good for thinking about their eventual transitions from college student to independent adult. I tend to ask my wife — and myself — a lot of questions: Are the kids on the right track? Can we do more to help them?
One of the biggest questions I’ve often thought about: Is going to college still worth it?
A recent Wall Street Journal article tackled this question and found that most economists still say getting a college degree is indeed worth it, but there are some factors to watch. College costs have continued to rapidly rise while wages have remained relatively flat.
Navient’s Money Under 35 study found that three quarters of degree holders believe their education was a worthwhile investment. In that same study, 43% of those who attended some college but did not complete their degree believe their education was a worthwhile investment.
Those widely different perspectives make good rational sense: According to Bureau of Labor statistics, the average individual with a bachelor’s degree earned almost $67,000 in 2018 while the average yearly salary of a worker with a high school education stands at about $37,000. On an annual basis, that’s a significant difference — but it’s an absolute game-changer over a lifetime.
The College Board has also found that college degree holders have significantly higher rates of employment, are more likely to move up the economic ladder, and less likely to rely on public assistance. College education is also associated with healthier lifestyles.
But what does all of this mean for college parents like me? How can I ensure my children truly realize the benefits of their college education?
Here are a few ideas for ensuring your student’s college education is worth it:
Understand the impacts of college majors. People pass judgement on certain college majors so regularly that it often becomes cliché. But facts are facts: Majoring in certain fields will likely result in higher earnings than others. An extensive 2015 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that, over a lifetime, the top-paying college majors earn $3.4 million more than the lowest-paying majors.
Higher earners tend to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), health or business, according to the study. Lower-earning majors include early childhood education, human services, arts, religion and social work. Helping your child understand the likely economic impacts of his or her field is an important part of preparing for economic independence down the road.
Insist on internships. No matter how competitive the job market is, people with actual experience are always more valuable candidates. A great way to gain experience is through an internship. My first job — as a reporter for a small newspaper — was a direct result of my internship. And over the years, I’ve seen many young people get full-time jobs through internship programs.
Make some introductions. In addition to getting real-world experience through an internship, your college student can also benefit from simply meeting with people in and around their desired career field. Helpful parents can make introductions to people in their network, but even if your network is limited, industrious students can always find relevant contacts on sites like LinkedIn® . Many people are more-than-willing to share their experiences by spending a few minutes on a phone call or even an email.
Just recently, a former colleague asked me to talk with her son about my career path in journalism and corporate communication and I was glad to do a short video chat with him. I’m certain others would do the same for your college students and mine.
A college education can indeed be a worthwhile investment — but like most other investments, you increase your chances of success when you make a plan and stick to it. I’m hopeful my kids will continue to follow their plans.
Paul Hartwick is vice president of corporate communications for Navient. He and his wife have three children — two of whom are now in college.