Every time I teach an "Introduction to Business" university course, I start by telling the students the same thing. "Statistics show that if you don't want to be here, you are better off just getting a job."
Besides the opportunity cost of sitting in a classroom, the real cost of a university degree is skyrocketing. According to the Economist, the "cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983, and graduate salaries have been flat for much of the past decade."
Below is a visual provided by the U.S. Census Data:
Maybe more important than the cost of a university degree, consider these facts:
What this implies is that with Wi-Fi access and a mobile device, over half the world's population can access the same textbooks and reading materials we receive in classroom lectures.
Consider also that many of these global citizens come from developing areas of the world where opportunity is the most powerful motivator, so while we binge Netflix, millions of passionate and ambitious people -- with access to the same information as you -- are learning and preparing to be your competition.
Of course, there are some university degrees that will return more than others, such as engineering. I would argue, however, that most knowledge associated with a university degree can easily be learned if you know where to look on YouTube or other educational sites, like Skillshare.com.
I am in no way advocating that everyone should drop out of school. I believe strongly in educational institutions and their ability to add value to careers, but the philosophy that going to school because it will lead to a better life, as was widely believed and true for decades, simply is no longer that simple.
With that said, it is up to the students to make the most of their university time. Instead of completing your financial aid forms, buying books and going to class, students need to look for the opportunities that make them more competitive -- namely activities not available to others outside the university.
Get (Real) Work Experience
When you graduate, you do not want the only thing on your resume to be "summer camp counselor" and "ice cream shop cashier." These jobs are rewarding and fun, but students need to find internships and job opportunities in their areas of interest while they are in school.
More important, gaining experience in your field, if nothing else, will help you understand if it is a field you truly want to pursue. For instant, accounting and finance degrees often yield better paying jobs than other degrees, but the actual work required is different than classroom learning. You don't want your first job in your field to the first job you take after graduation.
And yes, you can get a job in your field without going to school, but doing so while you are engaged at a university helps bridge the gap between classroom learning and real application. Moreover, it provides you access to advisors and mentors who can help you get the most from the experience.
Take Advantage of International Programs
Regardless of how you feel about globalism, the fact is that we live in a connected world where all nations, to some extent or another, depend on each other. For this reason, understanding international business and cultures is important immediately to employers and will help you grow and progress long term.
Also, international programs help you gain firsthand experience living and working overseas -- and earning college credit while doing so. I understand that the cost of those programs are often high, but it is minimal when considering the overall cost of the tuition -- and I would argue the return on investment from the experience is many times greater than that you receive sitting in a stale classroom environment.
Build Your Network
Many university students come to college expecting that their college is responsible for getting them jobs. While that is true to some extent, it is grossly misguided. Consider, for instance, there is no money-back-guarantee at any university I know.
Your career depends on you and you alone. Instead of waiting for the university to provide the opportunities you seek, go and create them yourself. This requires a little extra work and effort, but in the end, it puts your direction in your control.
For starters, reach out to university faculty and ask for advice. As an instructor, I always welcome -- and often shocked at the lack of -- requests to meet and talk about careers. I have worked in a number of industries and through a variety of disciplines throughout my career, so if I cannot answer a question or provide adequate advice, I probably know someone in the field who can.
Also, attend events and join groups that will allow you the opportunity to build a network of people who share the same interests and could be allies throughout your career. And remember that at a university level, these groups and functions can be fun and rewarding personally.
Of course, there is an argument to made for making colleges cheaper and more effective, but that is an argument is for another column. For now, while it is cliche to say "school is what you make of it," it has never been more poignant than it is today.
What do you think? What other ways did you make university more valuable? Please share your thoughts and advice with me at @PeterGasca.