Conflicting Messages About the Value of Education Attainment

  By Dr. Frank Burtnett  |    Wednesday May 10, 2018

Category: Certification, Education, Expert Advice

For years Americans have recognized degree attainment at colleges and universities as a pathway to the best jobs and the best salaries.  While this position has had a fair share of critics for its elitist perspective, the earnings data has been consistently accurate. Multiple studies have reliably shown a disparity in earnings immediately and over the course of one’s career for those earning baccalaureate degrees and those who study less. 

A more recent examination, however, of these statistics as viewed through the “bang for the buck” lens has discovered some contradictions that soon-to-be job seekers may wish to study in greater detail. These studies pose serious questions about whether the well-travelled collegiate route offers the “utopian” endings earlier studies have associated with four-year degree attainment. The examination becomes even more convoluted by the growing numbers of younger workforce members who seem willing to trade earning and benefits for greater life-work balance.

A recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce suggests that middle class students and their families need to learn and practice the five rules in what they refer to as the College and Career Game---rules that if followed might reduce or eliminate the risks associated with the higher and ever increasing cost of tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities.

Guidelines included in the Georgetown Center’s Five Rules of the College and Career Game show “that college is less about what college you go to and what degree you get but more about the returns of individual college programs.” Lead author of the report and Center Director, Anthony P. Carnevale, opines that students and families should use them “to decipher their options in the first major investment in the journey from youth dependency to independent adulthood.” 


Five College and Career Game Rules


The rules, amplified in significant detail in the full report, are as follows:


Rule 1: More education is usually better.

Rule 2: Majors matter more

Rule 3 Majors are important, but do not control one’s destiny

Rule 4: Less education can be worth more

Rule 5: Most humanities and liberal arts majors never catch up with the highest earning majors such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), healthcare and business


Given the cost of higher education to students and families and to the general public supporting public higher education with their tax dollars, there is little wonder that the contradictory aspects of these rules are forcing a reassessment of individual educational and career objectives to ensure that future students give greater consideration to collegiate and others studies with labor market value. Minimally, the report suggests; “these five rules can help students navigate the college game in these uncertain times.”

Access to the “reader friendly” full report and interactive tool that explores earning returns of college majors nationally and by state can be found at

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