Students have one big concern when it comes to college: Whether education will lead to a good job. The focus on career has grown in recent years as Generation Z has matured and entered school. An increasing number of nontraditional students have also begun seeking to better their employment prospects with a degree.
Students have always hoped college would boost their chances on the job market, but now they’re getting serious. They’ve heard nightmare stories about graduates saddled with $100,000 in debt, unable to find work more lucrative than waiting tables. They’ve heard about students petitioning the government for loan forgiveness with the sudden closure of for-profit schools. And their fears that undergraduate and graduate programs may yield a poor return on investment (ROI) are not based on word-of-mouth alone.
Generation Z — students of age to start college now — has witnessed the impact of the Great Recession. These kids have seen millennial elder siblings return home indefinitely after college and sworn to never end up like that.
The millennials’ retreat to parents’ homes is not surprising given that 55% of college graduates are seeing a lower ROI from their education than those who earned degrees 10 to 15 years ago, according to a 2015 study by the educational technology firm Greenwood Hall.
An Ohio University study conducted the same year found 70% of students are stressed about finances. More than half worry about having enough to pay for school. No wonder. The statistics on student loan debt are beyond grim.
Recent reports show:
- $1.44 trillion in U.S. student loan debt
- 2 million Americans with student loan debt (that’s larger than the entire population of France)
- An average monthly payment of $351 for borrowers aged 20 to 30
Some 40% of the $1 trillion-plus in debt was used to pay for graduate school. The costliest programs are medical school ($161,772) and law school ($140,616), but a substantial number, 16%, of borrowers racked up more than $50,000 in debt for Master of Education degrees. The average starting salary for a teacher is somewhere in the realm of $35,000 to $50,000 — hardly enough to make those $351 monthly payments.
You can expect prospective Gen Z students to ask good questions about careers after college. It’s a famously pragmatic bunch with a focused set of priorities. The top three factors in college choice for Gen Z are career preparation, interesting coursework and professors that care about student success, according to a Barnes & Noble College study.
That study found that 89% still view college as valuable. However, you can’t take for granted the Gen Z interest will extend to your institution. Recruiters need to be equipped with answers: about how many students find good jobs upon graduation, about how students finance education and about how successfully they repay debt upon earning a degree. Students want ROI.