A 20-second Google search for “Is a college education worth it?” demonstrates, sadly, that the value of higher education is hotly debated. The search generates more than 200,000 results.
U.S. News and World Report has a page dedicated to the debate. The New York Times issued a strong “yes” in May. The Economist chimed in last spring less enthusiastically, saying some degrees pay off much more than others.
As a university president, I clearly believe there is significant value in a college education. My opinion is based on hard data regarding better jobs and incomes as well as seeing and hearing the success stories of thousands of our graduates. I have talked to numerous alumni from this university who tell me the education they received contributed greatly to their success.
Critics of higher education claim the value of a degree is decreasing or that a degree isn’t necessary to be successful in today’s job market.
To help decide if either of those views is a valid concern, I decided to put myself in the place of a recent graduate and look for a job. I went to Monster.com and began my search.
I’m an economist by trade, but I didn’t want to narrow my job options because our students choose a variety of fields, so I built the following search parameters for my new job:
- Requiring 0-2 years of experience
- In Texas
- Salary greater than $50,000 a year— the U.S. Census Bureau reported the median household income in Texas in 2012 at $51,926.
To test job availability by educational level, I conducted two searches, one for jobs requiring only a high school diploma and one for those requiring a bachelor’s degree. This was the breakdown—remembering that Monster.com will display a maximum of 1,000 job openings for any search:
- High school diploma: 484 jobs
- 4-year degree: 1,000 jobs
The job openings displayed maxed out the system for jobs requiring a university degree! Fewer than half that constrained number of 1,000 were listed for jobs requiring only a high school diploma.
I then searched again using the same set of parameters except raising the income requirement to $80,000 per year. The result this time was a total of 980 jobs. However, the education gap was much wider. More than 83% of those positions available required a bachelor’s degree.
I understand I am simplifying the process a bit. Several additional factors—such as university, field of study, professional connections, and “soft skills” such as demeanor and conduct—make a significant difference for a recent graduate coming into the market and can assist those students in landing better jobs.
However, looking at these Monster.com searches, one thing becomes clear: Having a degree still gives you a major advantage when entering the job market.
The Pew Research Center published incomes for young workers ages 25-32. The median annual income for U.S. workers in that age group with a bachelor’s degree is $45,500. For those with a high school diploma it’s $28,000.
And that difference only grows over time. Indeed, over a lifetime of work it is still truth that a typical university graduate will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate.
There is no doubt that education is still worth it.
During a recent interview, I was asked to identify some highlights of my 16 years as president. I don’t think the interviewer was expecting such a long answer, but it was difficult to limit my response to just a few items.
I realized later that had her question been regarding the highlights of the past year, my answer would have been just as difficult to pare down. Years from now, as I look back on my career, I will remember 2013-14 as a truly remarkable time for this university.
We have had a year filled with great beginnings and landmark accomplishments, thanks to the dedication, hard work and generosity of our university family and friends.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the groundbreaking for W.T. Brookshire Hall, the future home of the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy. This is a landmark project in the history of this university. I am immensely proud of this undertaking and of the dedicated staff, faculty, administrators, elected officials, community members and corporations who supported the formation of East Texas’ first college of pharmacy.
During the past year, we also conducted our first foray into a teaching model that places the lecture portion of a course online and earmarks classroom time for practical application of that lecture material. The the first year of our Patriots Applying Technology for Success and Savings (PATSS) program was a success. In the fall, we will be offering more than 60 courses in the new HyFlex format—which I have talked about before in blog posts. Before we start the 2014-15 academic year, 56 faculty members will have been trained to teach PATSS courses.
Classes at the Houston Engineering Center started last fall with 50 students, and we are expecting enrollment to double for the coming fall. The center—which is housed at Houston Community College’s Alief-Hayes campus—has an immense potential to help meet the growing need for engineers in the Houston area and around the state.
We have also added a new housing option for our students. Eagle’s Landing, formerly the Village at the U apartments, on Old Omen Road is now the property of and managed by UT Tyler. This purchase allows us to offer additional students the benefits of residential life.
In addition, we have been recognized on a national and international scale for the performance of our students, the success of our academic and service programs and the excellence of our athletics. Students and faculty in chemistry, debate, Model United Nations, basketball, softball, tennis, golf, track, nursing, education, art and countless other areas have earned high accolades this academic year.
Being president of this institution means there is never a dull moment, because there is always something new to be celebrated and fresh challenges to conquer. Area employers repeatedly tell me that our graduates are second to none. That takes a lot of dedication from our students, faculty and staff. We are all part of this small city that is UT Tyler, and we each play a vital role.
Indeed, 2013-14 was an amazing year at UT Tyler. I am honored to be a part of this institution and always humbled by the dedication of those who wish to see this university grow.
I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014-15 holds.
In the world of business, many of the characteristics we have discussed in this series fall under the label “soft skills.” That term can be roughly defined as the personality traits that characterize a person’s ability to interact with others. I want to detail from a career perspective just how important is it to develop these skills.
- The need for soft skills is vital enough that the lack of them in recent college graduates has garnered articles in publications such as Time, Businessweek and Forbes.
- The U.S. Department of Labor has a web page dedicated to aiding workers in soft skill development. It’s aimed at young people transitioning into the workforce.
- In fact, in a November article on Time’s business website, 60 percent of employers said they could not find applicants with the necessary communication and interpersonal skills.
- A second survey, by staffing company Adecco, was quoted in the same Time article as stating “44 percent of (employers) cited soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration as the area with the biggest gap.”
Your ability to communicate with others and to perform tasks in a group environment – skills you often practice in the classroom – will have a real-world impact on your professional life.
Becoming a university graduate is truly a goal few accomplish. Only 18 percent of Texas adults have a university degree, 16 percent in the Tyler area. You have the potential to make a real difference in the world. As we discussed in my last two posts, your success will come just as much from developing depth of character as it does from excelling in the classroom.
True university men and women understand the importance of excelling beyond your GPA. If you dedicate yourself to acquiring the skills I have discussed in this series, you will find yourself pursuing an excellence of character that will be vital to your success.
Never quit on a project, learn all you can, and always grow in wisdom, knowledge and skills. Do those things and you’ll not only have a successful career, but you’ll make a difference in the world.
You will be a true university man or woman.
In my last post I gave a list of characteristics that a University Man or Woman should display. I will admit it was a long list. Developing the qualities necessary to be a successful individual is not easy. It takes perseverance, dedication and time.
What I want to tell you today is that the effort is worth it. Many of you are already well along on the road to becoming university men and women—and that means something.
Believe it or not, here at UT Tyler we work to equip you with both the knowledge you need for your job field and the skills you need to be able to succeed in the workplace and in society. All you need to do is remember that some of the tasks you may not enjoy often teach you the most important skills.
1. Write, write, write, write. The ability to communicate on paper is essential in every job.
- Yes, I did say every job. If you are an engineer, you will still need to write reports. If you are a nurse, you will need to be able to write updates on a patient’s condition. If you are in education, you will write regular emails to parents, principals, district administrators and other audiences.
- No matter what your job description is, writing will be a part of it. So learn to write concisely, descriptively, and with as few errors as possible.
- Don’t just rely on autocorrect or spell check. We’ve all seen what funny errors can result from letting a computer do your writing for you. There are whole websites dedicated to those errors. Don’t end up on one of them.
2. Learn to shake a hand and discuss your ideas. If you are that person in class who is always in the middle of a discussion with the professor, congratulations. You will probably be supervising many of your quieter classmates someday.
- Learning when to talk and when to listen will hone your communication skills and make you a vital employee.
- In fact, in a November article in Forbes, author Dan Schawbel said when his company interviewed employers about traits they look for when hiring students, 98 percent said “communication skills.”
- So learn to speak to others, build strong presentations, and share your thoughts orally and in the written word.
- Warren Buffet once said to a group of business students that communication skills increase an employee’s value by 50 percent.
3. Develop a strong work ethic. Your word is your bond. If an employer can trust youto be there every day at 8 a.m. and work diligently until 5, you’ve got a much better chance of having a future with that company. And even if you don’t want to stay in that job, still keep that ethic. You never know when you will need the bridge you didn’t burn.
4. Develop the four cardinal virtues. The idea of four main virtues is not new. The Greek philosophers—Socrates to Plato to Aristotle—as well as many philosophers since have spoken about the importance of developing the following traits:
- Temperance – which means self-control, moderation, the ability to abstain from things that distract you from your main goal
- Courage – Endurance, the ability to confront fear, uncertainly and intimidation. We are all afraid at times. Just don’t let it get the best of you and you will do fine.
- Practical wisdom, also called prudence – The ability to assess the consequences of your actions and act appropriately.
- Justice – the idea that we all get exactly what we earn, and that we should all fight to make sure we all earn our keep.
Dedicate yourself to these goals, and you will be well on your way toward being a true university man or woman.
I have recently been telling audiences that UT Tyler shines because it turns out well-educated graduates who are “university women and men.” By that term, I mean that our graduates have important soft skills, productive attributes and positive values to go along with first-rate knowledge of their academic disciplines.
At UT Tyler, we pride ourselves in giving you the best knowledge base possible and in holding you to higher-than-average standards. By doing so, we help enable you to have successful careers and to be productive for yourself, your families and society.
However, a work credential—a certain degree that says you can be an engineer, accountant, nurse, teacher—is NOT the only thing employers want, maybe not even the most important thing.
Numerous employer surveys show the primary reason some recent graduates cannot find employment or advance in their careers is not because they failed to learn the subject matter, but because they did not learn the skills that have nothing to do with a degree plan. Those other things are every bit as important as what is in the classroom.
I want to tell you what those other skills and characteristics are, in hopes that you will use your university years to develop them.
The obvious first attribute is that you are a knowledgeable person. You have professional knowledge that will enable you to build successful careers. You are here to learn to be accountants, educators, artists, musicians, engineers and nurses and to do great work. Notice, I didn’t say to get a “job.” A university man or woman doesn’t want a job. They want to work. In addition, you have what is known as liberal knowledge—or broader cultural knowledge—that allows you to work with others and connect ideas in order to adapt and solve problems.
In addition to that most important characteristic, I think the following skills are essential to both academic and career success:
1. A university man or woman can think analytically. They think things though logically,critically and robustly, bringing all their knowledge to bear in a focused and thoughtful way with an eye to getting to the essence of a matter and find solutions.
2. A university man or woman can communicate effectively. High levels of both written and oral communication are the most critically needed skills—and the most lacking in applicants—for most positions. Learn to write. Doing so helps train your brain and gives you orderly thinking skills.
3. A university man or woman exercises sound judgment. Judgment is the ability to weigh facts and arguments and to evaluate alternative outcomes and their consequences as part of a good decision-making process. Haven’t you known people or certain friends who could take information and ideas—even regarding where a group should go to eat—and make better-than-average judgment calls?
4. A university man or woman pursues excellence. He or she subscribes to the adage: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well!” A university man or woman gives anything his best effort.
5. A university man or woman loves to persevere. They are willing to give anything theydecide to do “the old college try.” Even more to the point, they do not quit.
- “No,” “never” and “that can’t be done” are not in their vocabulary.
- When challenges come, a university man or woman will find a way to say, “Yes, that can be done, if you do it this way.”
6. A university man or woman is honorable, which includes so many attributes. University men and women:
- Care about others.
- Are civil and cordial with each other in all matters of discussion, debate and interaction.
- Honor all bargains, even those sealed with a handshake.
- Tell the truth and never cheat—and help others do the same.
7. A university man or woman has courage and will:
- Take prudent, well-calculated risks in order to achieve the unachievable.
- Stand up for what they believe is right and fair.
- Stand up for those who have a smaller voice, or no voice at all.
- Tell others (with appropriate tact) when they believe those others are incorrect.
8. A university man or women is a leader.
- They are informed—they read and listen.
- They are willing and able to make decisions that consider available information and the views of others.
- They can prioritize—know the difference between what is important and what can be left for another time.
- They are engines of action that can persuade others to follow and get a task done.
- When necessary, they are agents of change.
9. They have soft skills—the needed communication and interpersonal skills to perform in a professional environment. A university man or woman can carry on a conversation (in the workplace and with clients) and have dinner easily with co-workers and the supervisor.woman knows how to:
- Be on time; be prepared; work hard; and do the very best he or she can.
- Write cogently and succinctly.
- Really listen.
- Be a team player (can get along in, and make productive use of, small groups).
- Shake hands and look someone in the eye—at the same time.
That is a big list, I know. In future blog entries, I will talk about how students can work to develop these skills.
Studies continue to show that a college degree is a good investment. In an article published just last month by the United States Census Bureau, researchers calculated — once again — that workers with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of one million dollars more over the course of their careers than those with only a high school diploma. These additional earnings more than cover the costs of completing a degree.
The advantages of a college degree don’t stop at higher salaries. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that college graduates suffer less when the economy takes a down turn. For example, in March 2010, the unemployment rate of college graduates was 5 percent while those without a bachelor’s degree faced an 11 percent unemployment rate. This unemployment rate gap has persisted for many decades and through multiple ups and downs of the economy.
Preparing students for gainful employment upon graduation is an area in which UT Tyler excels. Our nursing graduates boast a 95 percent pass rate on the state licensing exam, while our nurse practitioners earn an even better pass rate at 100 percent. Our education graduates are highly successful, too, with a 94 percent pass rate on the teacher certification exam. Perhaps because of these stellar performances, 90 percent of UT Tyler graduates have jobs or have been accepted to graduate school before they graduate — even in the current tough economy.
The higher education community has much to be proud of. We are providing students the skills and credentials necessary to give them the best opportunity to succeed. I invite anyone who feels differently to come visit UT Tyler and see our great university at work.