Activity of the Day: What’s the Value of A College Education?

As admissions decisions are delivered to households (and email accounts), I thought I would highlight another of our college related activities, “What’s the Value Of A College Education?“. This is one of my favorite activities to motivate my freshman students. While the value of a college education definitely goes beyond the higher earnings potential, it still is quite eye-opening for students to actually quantify what the value is.  

In this activity students first make an estimate as to how much they think a college education is worth and are asked to provide details on their thought process for their answer.  Students then analyze a chart from the Economist magazine which shows how the average weekly earnings and unemployment rates vary based on educational attainment.  From the figures in this chart, students calculate the lifetime earnings for a high school graduate, some college and a college graduate.  They then calculate the differences between a college graduate and a high school graduate to determine the value of a college education.

Finally, students reflect on how their estimate compared with the figures that they calculated and whether this changed their viewpoint on whether education was worth the investment.  This activity leads to great conversations including how these numbers are only averages and what factors might determine whether they would earn more/less than the average.  Students also notice the importance of finishing college as the lifetime earnings for some college differ only slightly from those with a high school degree.