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October 23

Making the Case For College


A generation ago, attending college after high school was a forgone conclusion for many people. A college degree was considered to be your best ticket to personal success, since it was the only real way to get the skills and credentials needed for a promising career.

Things are different now. Whole industries have developed which offer well-paying jobs that require minimal classroom experience.  Virtually anything you want to know is available for download from the internet.  The world is at your fingertips; you just need to know where to look.

For those reasons, prospective college students today are asking questions that their parents did not.  “Which college should I choose?” is being replaced by “Should I go to college at all?”

As someone engaged in higher ed marketing, here are three significant benefits of a college experience that you should keep in mind when making your case to prospective students.

1. Return on Investment (ROI)

Advocates for alternatives to college almost uniformly cite the cost of a college education as their biggest objection.  They are not altogether wrong:  According to the Education Data Initiative, the cost of secondary education has doubled since 2000, and the average price tag for a bachelor’s degree from a state college is hovering above $100,000.  Private, nonprofit colleges may exceed $250,000.  

For many people, those numbers alone create an image of a college education as a financial ball-and-chain, generating debt that they will have to drag with them for decades.

Merely citing cost statistics like this, however, misrepresents the situation.  Obtaining a college degree is not like buying a meal, where the food is enjoyed for just a few minutes and then life moves on.  Rather, it is much more like buying a house, with ongoing benefits and, especially if managed well, an increase in value over time.  

In communicating with prospective students who seem to be intimidated by the price tag, you will probably find it helpful to show them some of the many statistics which demonstrate the financial paybacks from getting a college degree. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • The average college graduate will have a median lifetime income between $600,000 and $900,000 higher than those who only graduated from high school;
  • Jobs requiring a college degree are more likely to include other benefits, such as more robust healthcare and retirement plans.  Some companies even provide assistance for paying off student loans;
  • In 2022, the unemployment rate among those with bachelor’s degrees was 2.2%, while among high school graduates it was 4%;
  • During the Covid pandemic, employees with college degrees were less likely to get laid off than their counterparts.

Yes, it costs something to go to college.  All good things in life have a cost.  But a college education is an investment in their future, and that investment can pay back dividends that far outweigh what was spent to obtain it.

2. Personal Development

A second objection that some people raise against going to college is that it takes so much time.  A bachelor’s degree takes a minimum of four years, which is four years of lost potential earnings.  Moreover, college students often must take classes in things that don’t ultimately contribute toward their degree field (but that they pay for, anyway). 

Prospective students who raise this objection need to be shown how that is, quite simply, the wrong way to look at this aspect of a college experience.  The opportunity to expand one’s world with knowledge about new and different fields is not a waste of time at all.  How many people have entered college intending to pursue a degree in one field, but because they took a course in a different field, they discovered a new passion, a new direction?  Even those who do not change their majors often have their worlds expanded because of what they were exposed to in college. 

Another benefit to share in your marketing for college students is the “soft skills” they develop along the way.  When we think about college degrees, we tend to think in terms of receiving the specific “hard skills” that are necessary to be proficient in a given field:  A geology major must be able to chemically analyze rock samples obtained in the field; an English major must learn Shakespeare.  Colleges naturally provide the best facilities and resources to learn these hard skills.

There are other skills, “soft skills,” which are equally important to success in the marketplace.  The ability to communicate with clarity, to collaborate on projects, to solve problems: these are skills that are essential to life, not just to a job.  Time spent in a college environment provides opportunities to grow in those areas just as much as in the more specific areas necessary for a given job.

3. Social and Professional Relationships

A college environment is a great place to forge new and lasting relationships.  On the social level, college attendees are constantly rubbing shoulders with other people of similar interests and goals.  There is an old saying that “iron sharpens iron,” and these interactions, both inside and outside the classroom, can provide just the right sort of challenge to keep each other sharp and on track to excel.  

These relationships often carry forward after graduation in the form of professional networks that can share knowledge and expertise or open up new opportunities.  

College students also learn their material under the guidance of masters in their fields.  These professors bring to the classroom not just reams of knowledge, but their own personal experience.  As they leverage that experience in the classroom, it can create a much more lively and less abstract learning experience, creating better outcomes for their students.  Furthermore, because they have many of their own contacts in the field, a professor’s recommendation can often be the ticket to landing a good job.

Is College Worth It? Yes!

  • A college degree is an investment in your future that can yield dividends that far outweigh its costs.
  • Time spent in college is a life-changing experience that connects your personal world to a much broader world of knowledge and opportunity.
  • The relationships built in a college environment can carry through a lifetime, and may even be the catalysts for a more successful and satisfying career.

You may have noticed that throughout this article I talk about “College Experience,” not just “College Education.”  Going to college is about more than just filling the mind; it is about developing the whole person.

Need help with some practical ideas of how to incorporate these ideas into your messaging with prospective students? Let’s talk.

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