- When it comes to student return on investment, differences in marketplace value among fields of study means that students are often able to earn higher salaries with significantly less education, because what they make no longer depends on "how many degrees" are earned or "where you go to college," said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, during a recent episode of "In Focus" from Georgetown's School of Continuing Studies.
- Carnevale said there's a $3.3 million career-earnings difference between the highest-paying bachelor's degree and the lowest-paying bachelor's degree, and because of this gap, 40% of people with bachelor's degrees make more than those with graduate degrees, on average. At the same time, around 30% of workers with two-year degrees more than those with four-year degrees, while about 20% of technical one-year certificate holders yield higher returns than those with four-year or two-year degrees.
- What this means, Carnevale said, is that even at a time when the traditional liberal arts framework is being questioned, the interdisciplinary focus on mixing "very specific education, that is your college major," and "general education, those course requirements in all those other fields," actually improves students' earning prospects because the combination makes them "more adaptable as things change in labor markets, as technology changes." And he added, overall, an institution's status matters less than what types of programs it provides and the degrees' ROI.
Increasingly, industry leaders see that the traditional formula for student earnings based on level of degree received is no longer driving how much graduates earn, but rather what types of skills they bring — particularly as greater demand arises for graduates that are prepared for a technologically entrenched workplace. In terms of what this new student ROI equation means for the future of higher education, Carnevale said:
"We're going to be living in a world where institutions matter less. That is, the college you go to matters less. [And] the degree level matters less and the subject matter is more important, which means that accountability in ... higher education will be by program."
He added this emphasis on the field of study and its impact on the economy is only going to increase, now that more data is being collected on student outcomes and long-term returns.
"The Obama administration spent $760 million dollars building out information systems that allow us to look at individual programs," he said. "And that's where we're going. [It's] less about going to Georgetown verses the University of Virginia, more about the institutional program you choose."