Trick or Treat? 9 Frightening Facts about Higher Education in America

October 19, 2016

It’s that time of year again: a time of fear, mystery, spooky stories, and horror. No I’m not talking about the 2016 presidential election, I’m talking about Halloween! You know, the night you take your kids house to house, load up on every unhealthy snack known to man only to find yourself passed out on the couch in a chocolate-induced coma at the end of the evening. Don’t judge.

It’s also the time of year when high school seniors are applying to colleges with hopes of getting accepted by their dream school. Before submitting those applications, it is wise for prospective students to take a step back and look at the state of higher education, especially as it relates to job readiness and financial debt. What you find is more horrifying than your wife’s reaction to your chocolate binge.

In the spirit of the season, here are nine frightening facts about the state of higher education in America:

  1. 70% of high school graduates move on to some form of postsecondary education, but fewer than half of those who enroll finish a degree or certificate within six years.
  2. Among recent graduates, the average undergraduate debt in the U.S. is nearly $35,000.
  3. Students who enrolled in public colleges three years ago now face tuition as much as 50% to 80% higher in some states. 
  4. 45% of bachelor’s degree holders are underemployed.
  5. Only 28% of recent college graduates strongly agree that their university prepared them well for life outside of college.
  6. Only 37% of recent graduates strongly agree that their education was worth the cost.
  7. Only 24% of recent graduates say they had a good job waiting for them after they graduated.
  8. Only 11% of business leaders say college grads are prepared for the modern workforce while 96% of chief academic officers at higher education institutions say their institution is effective at preparing students for the world of work.
  9. By 2020, 65% of jobs will require a postsecondary education beyond high school. At current pace, the U.S. will fall at least 5 million degrees short. 

Now that’s some scary stuff! As families and students consider making such a huge investment, how will they know if they’ll be gainfully employed after graduation? How do they know if the program or school they’re applying to truly sets them up for success in the workforce? In short, how do they know if they’re getting the most “bang for their buck?” Fortunately, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) is working on it.

In a partnership with the American Institutes for Research, Gallup, Inc., and USA Funds, USCCF has launched two state-specific websites (Colorado and Tennessee with Texas launch on Nov. 2) that provides prospective students with information about the return on investment in a certificate or degree from postsecondary institutions.

Called Launch My Career, the website measures college value to help students, families, policymakers, and postsecondary institutions make more informed decisions about the training and skills that provide the greatest value to students and to their communities.

The tool provides users access to data that identifies hot jobs across the state and regions as well as the degree and school(s) that will prepare students for these roles. It also compares earnings potential by schools and programs, the time it will take to pay off the loan for a particular program, and even calculates the number of years it will take for the salary from a particular occupation to meet a user’s lifestyle goals.

In short, the tool can help eliminate some of the uncertainties related to the value of a degree. It can help reduce your risk in the marketplace and provide some reassurance that your choice institution and program is the best investment for you. Students have a right to know how to find their best course—let’s take the fear out of the equation.


Mark D'Alessio is senior manager of communications for USCCF's Center for Education and Workforce.