Here is an honest truth nobody wants to talk about: It may no longer be worth going to college.
For a while now, I have advocated that the university system in the US, as we have come to know it over the past decades, needs a sincere overhaul. Like any business -- which is at the root of every university -- it is time to take a close, hard look at the "product" it creates and the value it offers.
For instance, according to the Wall Street Journal, the cost in university tuition and fees, as measured in the Consumer Price Index, has increased 3.54 percent annually and 74.5 percent from 2000 to 2016 (inflation adjusted).
Concurrently, the average salary for those earning a bachelors degree has not kept pace. In fact, the historic earnings potential for those earning a bachelor's degree, compared to those who did not, has actually decreased. Again, according the WSJ, the average annual earnings differential between high school and four-year college graduates increased to $32,900 in 2000 (inflation adjusted) from $19,776 in 1975. By 2015, however, it had decreased to $29,867.
Moreover, students have been saddled with a debt burden that has reached $1.5 trillion, according to Forbes, creating yet another obstacle for students to increase the return on their university investment.
While this relationship between the increased tuition and decreased earnings potential will put pressure on universities to innovate, it has also created a real dilemma for university students. Is it worth pursuing a university degree or opting for less-costly vocational training like plumbing or coding? Or might it be best to forgo college altogether in lieu of gaining real world work experience?
Of course, there are certain university degrees that are required to even get into a field or industry. And while I would never tell someone to not go to college, I will strongly advocate and advise that what you do while attending university is more valuable these days than just receiving a diploma at the end.
For starters, one thing every student should do to maximize their time in college is to learn communication skills, which are difficult to master alone and can prove to be dangerous to try to master while on the job.
Specifically, speaking in front of others and writing, activities that cause consternation in many, are two skills that you can learn and practice that will have the biggest impact on your career. Learning how to communicate effectively is a top three skill for any profession -- perhaps even the most important.
Even our 38th US President, Gerald Ford, echoed this sentiment when he said:
If I went back to college again, I'd concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.
In full disclosure, I work with a university as an advisor and influencer of young minds. Our business college administration and faculty understands the issues currently facing universities and is currently doing great things to create more value for the student experience. In fact, one of my initiatives is developing and implementing a consulting practicum that puts students into real business consulting projects while pursuing their undergraduate studies, helping bridge the gap between classroom theory and real life execution.
What do you think? How else can students maximize the university experience? Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter.