Findings from two reports could prompt campus administrators to expand career counseling for students and publish more extensive employment data.
The data link certain college majors to higher levels of loan debt, and reveal students’ unrealistic salary expectations.
The “2019 Student Opportunity Index” from Cengage, an edtech company, shows students pursuing a biosciences major incur the most debt while those earning health care degrees are most likely to owe nothing upon graduation.
Meanwhile, graduating Generation Z students expect to make about $10,000 more than they will actually earn at their first job after college, according to a survey by Clever, an online real estate service. Their anticipated midcareer salaries are also inflated—by about $15,000.
“The counseling systems in higher education are virtually nonexistent in terms of a student’s ability to talk about what happens after they leave college,” Carnevale says. “We need a full set of information on the economic value of college.”
Congress appears likely to drive progress on both fronts over the next several years. There is bipartisan support for mandating much greater transparency around employment outcomes as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Carnevale says.
Colleges and universities have fallen behind when it comes to career counseling for students, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C.
A Cengage survey of 2,500 near or recent graduates found:
- 82% are optimistic about the future
- 61% expect to be better off than their parents
- 88% believe the number of available jobs in their fields will increase in the next two years
Source: 2019 Student Opportunity Index, Cengage
And a recent executive order from President Donald Trump requires all colleges receiving federal aid to report program earnings and debt. “What’s radical about all of this is the institutions matter less and less, and the programs matter more and more,” Carnevale says.
In the Cengage survey of about 2,500 near or recent graduates, respondents were fairly optimistic about employment and financial prospects. Nearly all graduates reported that they expect to quickly find a job in their field of study, yet according to the research, only about 60% do. Graduates also said they expect to pay off loans in an average of six years, but that number is closer to 20.
Institutions could make it easier for students to adjust their majors if their job outlooks change, says Cheryl Costantini, vice president for the Cengage Unlimited product, OER and employability initiatives.
“Students will continue to be optimistic as long as they’re getting value,” Costantini says. “Despite high prices, students still understand they’ll have a better life with a degree. Institutions need to keep that where it is.”