This new report from the Pew survey doesn’t seem to mesh well with other surveys of College students. For example, the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute says that 2/3 of new frosh in 2010 were making education decisions based on economics, and 56.5% of frosh in 2009 were going to college because “graduates get good jobs.”Janet Donald has reported studies saying that the percentage of students who are going to college purely to get a new job is over 70% today. 47% of students aiming just for a job (not also an education) in the Pew study feels low to me.
Perhaps it’s because assessing the value of a college education is not a hard-and-fast calculation. Sure, diplomas help Americans land better jobs and earn higher salaries, and one can estimate the financial return on those investments. Yet the perceived benefits of attending college go well beyond dollars. In the Pew survey, all respondents were asked about the “main purpose” of college. Forty-seven percent said “to teach knowledge and skills that can be used in the workplace,” 39 percent said “to help an individual grow personally and intellectually,” and 12 percent said “both equally.” These findings echo the words graduates often use to describe the benefits of their college experiences. Typically, those benefits are intangible, immeasurable, and untethered to narrow questions about what a particular degree “got” them.