Vail Centre: Analyzing the value of higher education in today’s workplace |

Vail Centre: Analyzing the value of higher education in today’s workplace

Ross Iverson
Special to the Daily |

The vast majority of today’s working professionals probably believed they needed a college degree to be successful. Depending on their chosen career path, many people were also told that working in their field would require a master’s or doctorate degree or that obtaining one will give them an advantage over other applicants.

Many jobs and professions require at least a bachelor’s degree to even be considered. And yet, the value of higher education is changing rapidly, leaving some to wonder if the cost of an advanced degree program is worth the debt many students accrue while studying at a top-rated college or university.

• For many, higher education is an investment in the future — According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, pursuing higher education is, on average, worth the investment, even when one has to take out student loans. Several studies have shown that Americans with bachelor’s degrees earn about $30,000 more per year on average than those with a high school education.

• Why attitudes toward higher education are changing — If research shows that getting a degree does have many long-term career and financial benefits, then why do so many graduates — especially millennials — feel otherwise?

Some recent graduates feel that the student loan debt they accrued while in college places a heavy burden on their finances in the early stages of their career. In certain instances, college graduates have trouble pursuing a master’s degree or Ph.D. program because of their high student loan debt. Americans with large amounts of student loans might delay buying a home or struggle with the down payment, due to having a poor or damaged credit rating.

• Gambling on a graduate degree — For working professionals, the decision to pursue a master’s degree can be tricky. The average cost of a graduate degree program is nearly $30,000 per year at public universities and almost $40,000 at private colleges. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, someone with a master’s degree typically earns $400,000 more over their lifetime than someone with only a bachelors.

• The rise in popularity of non-degree certificate programs — Despite the many benefits of higher education and the increased earning potential after completing their degrees, there’s still a sense that the cost of these programs are too high. To combat these issues, colleges and universities have begun to expand their options for career-level professionals who are already in the workforce. Graduate certificate programs are now growing in popularity. In the 2013-14 academic year, nearly 65,000 graduate certificates were awarded in the U.S.

Short-course, non-degree or graduate certificate programs allow professionals to learn new skills, grow in their careers and further their post-undergraduate education without having to apply for a master’s program. Individuals who participate in a certificate program offered by a college or university are better able to balance their studies with their job. These certificate programs are typically far less costly than obtaining a graduate degree, which is one of the reasons more people are choosing this option instead of getting a master’s degree.

Ross Iverson is the CEO of the Vail Centre and can be reached at The Vail Centre’s mission is to elevate careers, organizations and communities through education. Learn more at

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