50% of Americans Would Make Different Education Decisions

More than half of Americans (51%) would change a major education decision if they had it to do over again, finds a new report by the Strada Educational Network in conjunction withe Gallup polling organization: 36% would choose a different major, 28% would choose a different institution, and 12% would pursue a different degree.

Graduates of vocational, trade or technical programs are more positive about their education decisions that those with an associate or bachelor’s degree. STEM graduates at all education levels were most satisfied with their decisions. Respondents who earned Associate degrees and B.A. degrees in liberal arts were more likely to express regret than those with business, STEM or public service degrees.

“In the United States, students often make the decision whether or not to pursue postsecondary education without being fully informed of the available educational opportunities or which are required to pursue their chosen career path,” says the report. “These decisions, whether students pursued postsecondary education or not, have long-standing implications for their careers, their finances and their well-being.” Continues the report:

Researchers widely agree that many of the current measures available to consumers to help determine the value of their education fall short, and they are not widely used. There is, for example, no national database that shows how much graduates of different colleges earn by major or how satisfied they are with their experience. When economic challenges are coupled with a lack of reliable information, it creates a situation ripe for education outcomes to fall short of consumer expectations, leading many consumers to have second thoughts about the choices they made.

Bacon’s bottom line:

Looks to me like a massive mis-allocation of time (years of study) and financial resources. That might have been forgivable when higher education was the province of the elite. Now that 60% or more of the population pursues an advanced degree — often borrowing money to do so — the decision-making process needs to be more rational and better informed.

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32 responses to “50% of Americans Would Make Different Education Decisions”

  1. UpAgnstTheWall Avatar

    I wonder what that percent would look like had Boomers chosen to subsidize higher ed at the same level their forebears did for them instead of deciding a Soviet atheist with bad teeth and even worse morals had something worthwhile to say and going with the notion that selfishness is a virtue and keeping taxes low is the apex of good governance.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      1 sentence
      62 words
      0 cogent thoughts

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Folks need to re-think the 4yr degree… AI is fundamentally changing many degreed occupations… People need to PLAN on life-long continuing education… not only to keep up in their own field but to be able to jump ship if their core job gets nuked by AI and/or automation.

    A 2yr COmmunity COllege may actually be a better start because it’s much more tuned in to the actual existing economy jobs…

    Now days, not only are 2/3 of the College Bound high school kids in need of remediation just to qualify for college – the military no longer wants you either unless you have a quality high school education.

  3. aylor Avatar

    Students who major in math, engineering, business and similar majors typically have higher-paying career prospects, at least for entry level spots, than those who select liberal arts. But the world needs writers, artists and dreamers. How dull our society would be if all we could talk about was yield curves and oil prices. Liberal arts courses teach students how to think critically and view the world from many viewpoints, which are valued skills.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Isn’t it a matter of supply and demand? Let’s put aside “dreamers” since I’m not sure how to major in dreaming. Does the world need writers and artists? Sure. But how many? Right now there are thousands upon thousands of unfilled engineering jobs in the US. I’d bet there are also thousands upon thousands of unemployed and under-employed English and Art majors.

      So, why should the government guarantee loans to people who are at risk for not repaying those loans? Or, at least, should people getting degrees that are over-supplied pay a higher interest rate to account for additional risk of making those loans?

      Modern finance companies like SoFi will refinance student loans at lower rates than charged by the Feds. However, they only approve about half the applicants who apply. They use credit score and income as two of their major determinants. Essentially, they are making credit risk assessments based on employment which, as you say, tends to be more lucrative for STEM majors early in their careers. Who is left hold in the bag? The taxpayers of course. After the Sofi’s of the world cream skim the less risky student loans for re-financing the government is left with the higher risk loans.

      1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

        And you get at the rub of all of these “higher ed” posts….I won’t get into the STEM v. humanities debate….but I will address the nonsense on both sides (Bacon and LarrytheG) who seem to think a bachelor’s degree is “overrated.” It sounds like you work in tech and see it every day: there is a massive shortage of engineers and computer science majors in the U.S. If you go to a reputable school and get a 4 year B.S. in engineering…you will probably be making $75K as a 23 y.o. In no rational universe is that a “bad bet.” These, “we put too much emphasis on a bachelor’s degree” posts don’t seem to comport with the shortages in engineering and computer science.

        1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

          And to add on: I know two kids who graduated from VT and U.Va. last year. One got an engineering degree from VT and the other graduated from the Commerce School at U.Va. Both started their new jobs making $70K+. So, I just find all of this carping about higher ed to be silly. When you consider the average debt load at both schools is in the $30-35K range, they both should have their loans paid off in 5 years.

          I just can’t see how they somehow made a “bad” decision.

          What all of these higher ed posts should do is stop treating all the schools equally. If you go to U.Va., W&M, VT, JMU, VCU, GMU, or ODU….quite frankly, looking at average debt load at all the schools v. career earnings….it’s not a “bad” decision in most cases. Other schools? Perhaps the posts have some relevance.

          1. LocalGovGuy, your two examples are graduates from elite schools earning degrees in high demand. They don’t come close to reflecting the reality for most college graduates (or those who attend college and never graduate).

          2. djrippert Avatar

            Agreed. There are plenty of ways to economically fail with a college degree. However, there are “tried and true” ways to economically succeed. Get into one of the top 150 colleges in the United States.
            Sorry, that means working somewhat hard in high school. Next, pick the right major. If you go to the University of Tennessee choose Logistics. If you go to UVA, choose business. Etc. Next, move to the areas of the country where the most opportunity for your degree exists. Finance major? Head to New York City? Computer Science? Go west young man. Next, find a company with good prospects with a good history of bringing new college graduates up to speed. Accenture is an example. Next, work your ass off for four years.

            If you can’t get into one of the top 150 colleges you should consider a few years in the military or trade school.

            If you get into one of the top 150 universities and you major in anthropology – you have only yourself to blame for the lack of employment opportunities.

          3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            A couple of weeks back I ran across a recent graduate of one of the nation’s finest law schools who was clerking for a Federal District Court Judge. He’d accrued $350, 000 of education loans. Nationally the total education loan debt is approaching $1.7 trillion, with defaults rates increasing each year significantly.

            When I started writing on this subject around 2012 I recall the loan rate was approaching $1 trillion. This was five years ago. Some experts estimate that 60% of federal education loan amount do nothing more than push up the tuition rate dollar for dollar. This sets up a trap for the unwary, because the rates now often operate on the same pricing principles employed by the hucksters of used cars, save only for the fact the used cars more likely run better.

            This nation’s higher educational system is poisoning the future of millions of its undergraduates and now also for it graduate students.

  4. and that isn’t the fault of the people themselves, who go after said degrees?

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “In the United States, students often make the decision whether or not to pursue postsecondary education without being fully informed of the available educational opportunities or which are required to pursue their chosen career path,” says the report.”

    While I agree with this statement in the report, I would be wary of this survey. For instance the STEM statistics are highly misleading as the results are confined to STEM graduates.

    Everything I have read says that relatively few American students want to pursue STEM research (one report said only 16%) and that the drop-out rate among STEM students is quite high.

    This is not a critique of STEM education, only that far too many in the education establishment are pushing their own political agenda onto everyone else. Also I question whether this Strada group has its own special agenda. I can’t know for sure, but their predecessor appears in have been heavily involved in the student loan business.

    That being said, I also am not surprised that kids today are not happy with today’s humanities courses in college. I would not be happy either. Most such college courses are a national disgrace, a national scandal, and complete disaster zone. US professors in the humanities, and their college administrators, over the past few decades have to an alarming degree gutted these disciplines.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Much of this gutting of the humanities continues unabated given the ill advised and selfish shift of higher education resources onto STEM to benefit professors and Administrators at the cost of the Humanities and the kids who can greatly benefit from the study of the humanities as ALYOR suggests.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        I always wanted to be a history major. But I didn’t do that. I needed a job to make money to pay for off my college loans and to spend on myself and my family. When I retire I may go back to college and try to get that history degree. I just won’t ask anybody to lend me the money to do that.

        Nobody should borrow money without a clear plan as to how they will pay it back.

        The government shouldn’t use public funds to make or guarantee loans to people unless the government believes the borrowers have a clear plan to pay it back.

        But gub’mint isn’t very effective at much of anything. So, it racks up a huge potential liability making absurdly large loans to people pursuing courses of study that will result in a very high default rate. So what does gub’mint do? Does it say it will only loan money to people getting a degree from a school that will make the person a good credit risk? Does gub’mint have a plan to reduce the fast escalating cost of higher education? Of course not! Slimy politicians run around trying to buy votes by claiming they will just excuse those pesky old loans.

        I have nothing against the humanities. I have a lot of anger over gub’mint making bad loans with my money.

    2. Acbar Avatar

      STEM will not stem the tide of automation, let alone globalization. What we need is to defend the Wall and live idyllically like our American Indian predecessors, living off the land at their population levels, without industry or technology to mar the idyl. Or, adjust that vision for the population we actually have and the world around us has — and deal with reality.

      Our kids need preparation for modern democracy, modern jobs, and an economy that supports those jobs.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I could not agree more. The real question is how we get there? At what cost? For whose benefit? And using what system and whose our values?

    3. djrippert Avatar

      The dropout rate for STEM majors is high because STEM degrees are very rigorous. For example, to get a Computer Science degree at Penn State you have to take a considerable number of physics courses. As a person with 36 years of experience in the technology sector I can state for a fact that I have never had to use even intermediate physics to do my job. In fact, the most useful classes I took (after programming classes) were probability and statistics.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        “The dropout rate for STEM majors is high because STEM degrees are very rigorous.”

        Yes, I agree. And without diluting that statement we should also be careful not to push inexperienced people in directions that they are plainly not meant to go and will not succeed.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: arts and humanities…

    I’d opine that this is not what it used to be. Today the “arts” for most younger folks are modern entertainment.. and the “humanities” are Sports entertainment!

    You can even take 4-yr courses in the modern version of “Arts and Humanities” and make a good living but not so much in the more traditional forms..for the most part.

    but that’s not really the problem.

    The world we live in – requires workers who are highly literate in language, math, science, technology.. who are able to read and understand technical manuals.. and then using critical thinking devise solutions to real world problems – in collaboration with others.

    that’s a tall order but it is the GIG..in the 21st century economy.

    You can call it STEM or STEAM or anything you want …but you can’t get there by taking College LITE courses.

    Just about every field and industry today requires two fundamental skills – content skills in the core discipline for that job – and second. the ability to use modern technology to process that content into a work product that has value.

    yes we need the “arts” but now days it ain’t Shakespeare or Beethoven it’s the top music entertainers and sports celebrities – at least 90+% of the young… .

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    We have a cultural problem in this country that Asia, Europe and other countries do not have and it is this:

    In those countries – it is the responsibility of the individual to seek education that will equip them to be employable in the economy….

    In this country – “education” is more tuned to ” what do you want to do?”

    and for the non-college bound – it’s basically a “good job”.. “with benefits” from some employer…

    and for the college-bound – it’s a “degree” than guarantees a good-income career job.. but steer around the “hard” courses so you can get good GPA in K-12 so you can get into a “good” … brand-name college.. and graduate with a LITE content ..i.e. don’t take the hard stuff.. just the basics.. and get that degree…

    The folks in Europe/Asia go to the content that will get them a job in the economy.. Our folks see the “degree” the gaining of the ‘degree” as the goal.
    and this mentality has now extended to the low income kids going to college.. the are following the same recipe…. i.e. – get into college.. glide a easily as you can with generic courses.. get out with the degree and get a “good” job.

    The problem is that even generic degrees require more .. much more than many high schools today – actually prepare you for. 2/3 of even the middle class kids need remediation… and many of the low income kids are even more woefully ill-prepared.

    we rank 25th in the world – behind every other major industrialized country – in the world… and yet we continue with our dumb mind-set towards what education is or is not – and whose responsibility it is to get that education.

    we blame teachers and College professors for our own inability and refusal to seek proficiency ourselves.. Parents excuse the kids .. fight education standards like Common Core.. fight standardized testing but accept the SAT standardized test as the de-facto entrance standard for college.. in general teach the kids to steer around the “hard stuff” …

    when it is the “hard stuff” they actually must learn – and become competent at if they want a “Good” job in the 21st century economy.

    It’s on US – and we are not up to the challenge.. all we can do is try to put blame on others.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      You’re completely right. One of my favorite interviewing techniques is designed to test curiosity. In the first interview I’ll ask a question that is very unlikely for the candidate to be able to answer. “What is the theoretical maximum data transfer speeds for SATA 3.0 devices?” It’s a legitimate question but a candidate would have to possess a pretty encyclopedic understanding of computer science to answer. Savvy candidates just say “I don’t know”. Less savvy candidates mutter something about disk drives in general. But that’s not the point. The point is that I will ask them the same question when I interview them the next time (days or even weeks later). The people I like are the ones who looked up the answer because it pissed them off to not know something. While this is certainly not a point that would eliminate a candidate, any candidate who showed the curiosity to look up the answer demonstrates an eagerness to continually learn. In my business I need that.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I had ten interviews scheduled at Virginia Law School for upcoming graduates interested in joining my law, so the law school had set aside a room for my use. At the first interview the door to the room had remained slightly ajar after the first candidate came in. The same thing happened when the second candidate Betsy walked in and tried to close the door.

      “Wait just a moment,” she said then disappeared and reappeared a minute later with a screwdriver that she deftly employed to quickly fix the jam.

      Betsy got the job offer but never admitted that the door jam was a set up ploy. She turned out to be a very good lawyer.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: curiosity – perhaps I might fail your test but my initial thought would be – “why is that important in your business”…

    so… I’d want to know that.. and make that part of my job to know and understand…

    in my other life – … the mathematicians and scientists whom I was working with and for – would say … we need 14 digits of accuracy on the computer so we need computers that can give us that level of precision.. and in those days it meant computers that used “double precision”… but many never understood beyond the “we need”…

    well.. when you are launching weaponry that goes 10,000 miles.. a single digit of accuracy can cost you thousands of feet off the desired target..

    well that led to the idea that different computer models might actually use different precision versions of the same data constant , in part , because different scientific publications might differ in the 10th digit…

    thousands and thousands of man hours can go into why one model got 10 feet of accuracy and another only 100 feet…

    small things.. that matter.. needed workers who knew that… and knew that was a fundamental part of the work…

    an employee who wants to know what is important to a business and why – is usually a “keeper’. Others will go through their life and their careers wondering why others are such fuss-budgets… on details.. or more accurately what “details” matter … more than others.

    some folks know the stuff when told.

    others see it

    others see it an work to make it work right.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      My team and I design clouds. I spent the last 3 years working at the infrastructure level as the head of strategy and CTO. On Feb 15, 2017 I transferred to the application team to start building apps that run on the ever-so-clever infrastructure we built. Our anti-money-laundering application for banks went live last week.

      If you were interviewing with me you’d know why data transfer speeds are important. You might not know why I am asking a question that requires rote memorization. But then again … I’m not really asking that question. I just want to know if you’re the kind of person who gets pissed off by not knowing something. I like those kinds of people.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well it depends what pisses you off!! if it is important to you -then yes.

        if it is important to your employer then ergo it should be important to you!

        but yes.. some folks want to know – it’s important for them to know so they understand.. so they know what the hell they are doing and why…

        that even goes to holding an opinion about something… you need more than just what you’d like to believe!!

        and yes – the world goes round because there are people who want to know and want to build stuff that “works” .. and they delight in creating NEW things that “work” and are immensely valuable to others.. sometimes just knowing its valuable and sometimes knowing valuable stuff means monetary reward.

        some people look for answers to problems… that’s how they roll..

        others bitch and complain when things don’t work..and that’s how they roll

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: you success… congrats DJ! your product sounds intriguing !!!

        has it got a name?

        1. djrippert Avatar

          Still early. We have customers in beta on the AML product. Here’s a decent description of the overall product area …


  9. If the perspective of a still-active, politically-engaged 77 hr old has any relevance today, the notion that a humanities degree — in English, political science or (my major) history — has little value is sad commentary on our regard for critical thinking and the value of understanding the legacy of our array of world cultures.

    My modern European history major at Haverford College couldn’t have been a more satisfactory choice 55 years ago! It led to a happy career in and out of government, consulting, and international development. But the rigor of teaching and required study may have deteriorated, if my grandparents-day-attendance at history and English classes at an avowedly excellent prep school is any indicator. Not much rigor or challenging thinking required.

    We need our scientific and mathematical skills, as always, but we’re in deep trouble unless we focus as well on encouraging engagement in the humanities as aids to the critical thinking so urgently needed at every level of our society. Perhaps many of those who see this pursuit as wasteful and irrelevant may simply have lacked the teaching and curriculum that might have persuaded them otherwise.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    Good to see you posting again Malcolm and of course you’re right about the humanities especially but I guess I still think there has to be a primary economic purpose and nexus to taxpayers funding education… itself… and the humanities, soft skills, etc are also important for a well-rounded person but at the end of the day – we have to prioritize what we wants taxes to be spent on – in terms of a return on investment on an economic basis.

    we just cannot afford to have a flock of folks going to College on the taxpayer dime who are not themselves pointed in some direction that eventually leads to gainful employment, an ability to pay for themselves and their families – and taxes to fund education for others also. The majority of college-bound have to end up in the economy earning and contributing and not hanging out in Starbucks and needing entitlements to make up what they don’t earn.

    The more of them that have a well-rounded education that includes the humanities – the better.. but folks with degrees only in the humanities who then end up economically depending on others.. that’s not good either.

    It used to be you could do a Humanities only education and then adapt and configure yourself to a lot of occupations but the world has changed since then and most occupations require a lot more than humanities to accomplish what is actually needed.

    We should always have folks that teach them and people who take them as part of a well-rounded education..

    I guess I’m being mealy-mouth here a bit, eh?

  11. I just don’t buy that economic argument at all. On one hand it’;s prone to a very short-range perspective: how quickly a person gets a good job after college And on the other it supposes that the problems we face are not humanitarian or value-dependent. Take our income disparity, our prison and incarceration rates, and our endemic racism and tell me that a good education in the humanities isn’t essential for the citizenry to make wise and humane decisions. These are not technical questions, and while they ought to demand scientific research and data, the decisions on what data we need, and what studies to perform are themselves value dependent.

    The economic argument is short-sighted and the high costs of yielding to its dominance is, or ought to be, evident in our woeful political, economic and social condition today .

    1. Sadly, the social sciences have been corrupted — the results of many studies cannot be replicated. Many social scientists let their ideology dictate their results. I don’t indict all social scientists, but the corruption is widespread.

      As for the humanities, at many institutions they’ve been hijacked by ideologues on the far, far left wing of the ideological spectrum. Again, I don’t indict every professor. But many extirpate dissenting viewpoints. The education they provide is worthless — perhaps worse than worthless.

      I would observe that Virginia colleges and universities seem less infected (relatively speaking) than other in other states. But that’s damning with faint praise.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    Malcolm – I guess I’m a guy who sees the value of taxpayer-funded education – first and foremost – one of enabling citizens to become taxpayers and from that -the funding we need for fix our other problems including bootstrapping those that need an education themselves so they can repay to society themselves.

    but you got your dander up here – .. and I’m respecting it!!!

    I may well be shortsighted … in my view… .. it’s just hard for me to see how we deal with our basic human needs if we do not have most of us employed and contributing to that end.

    I’m not discounting at all the value and imprtance of humanities towards our society – it’s just that – that alone won’t get the job done and so we need a good number of folks dealing with the harder side of the economic equation.

    I say this as someone who see’s most of my property taxes go towards K-12 education and I don’t resent a single penny of it but I DO want to see it go to good use .. I want to see those kids get educated and grow up and earn a living, take care of them families.. and contribute taxes to educate the next generation!

    And a good number of them will do it without a full 4-yr degree with humanities.. they’ll just get their occupational certs and get on with their life .. support their families, pay taxes, etc.

    that’s LONG TERM too! Our current cycle of poverty is a terrible thing.. that’s rooted (in my mind) in poor education …

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