Will college pay off for your students?

Students and families today are getting smarter about college choice, but experts say they could still learn more about the value of schools, especially specifics about how well their education will pay off.

There are a number of spots where counselors can learn more about college value and find resources that they can make available to students and their parents.

Mark Kantrowitz, author of the book Twisdoms about Paying for College, has written broadly about college and come up with a specific list of questions students should ask that are often related to college value. He estimates college graduates earn about $1.2 million more than non-graduates but, like many experts, says that they need to choose a college wisely.

Here are some tips and resources so your students and families can make sure college pays off:

1) The first place to look might be a site developed by the Obama administration called the College Scorecard which has easily searchable information about college value and a host of other resources. There is a good YouTube video that briefly describes how the application works and a short handout for students and families. This article also explains the site.

2) Peter Cappelli, a department head at the famed University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in his popular book last year (“Will College Pay Off? A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make,”) says prospective students and their families have to be wary of thinking that a college degree guarantees a good-paying job. He notes that they shouldn’t assume that because a college is expensive or has a good reputation that it will be the best option, and should examine things like graduation rates, the effort to place students in jobs, and the recruiting going on by businesses and organizations in the school career office. “It takes some study, but the information is there and it will pay off.”

3) Jonathan Rothwell, now a lead researcher with Gallup who previously did an exhaustive study on college value for the Brookings Institute, also insists that students and families need to look at the data about schools. His “value added” system (there is a podcast and link to article) of calculating a college’s worth looks at the earnings of people in the workforce who hold degrees from a school, the speed with which students finish their degree and the number wo graduate, along with faculty salaries and other factors

4) Mary Daley, senior vice president and associate director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, has also done extensive research on the topic and has a podcast series about it. She says evidence about overall college value is “irrefutable”, but that young people should carefully consider options, including community college and state schools.

5)  While students should be a bit wary of sites that rate schools according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, there is information at sites like Accreditedschoolsonline, a private firm with a good page on college value, and Payscale, which ranks colleges by their salary potential.

Jim Paterson has written broadly on career exploration, academic success and other education related topics for several national and trade publications. He was a school counselor and was formerly named “Counselor of the Year” in Montgomery County, MD, a larger Washington, DC-area district. He is currently a writer for many education publications and websites based in Lewes, DE.