Relevance is the Key to Higher Education Value

When asked whether they agree or disagree that four-year private colleges or universities are worth the cost, 44% of Americans agree and 45% disagree.

This is according to “Varying Degrees 2018,” New America’s annual survey on higher education, which was released just days after data from United Way’s ALICE Project showing 43% of U.S. households can’t afford a basic monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation, and a cell phone. And it comes a month after Young Invincible’s Financial Health of Young America report was updated to show the net worth of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree and student loan debt dropped from $6,798 in 2013 into negative territory at -$1,900 in 2016.

Families calculate college value by factoring in cost, quality, and results. With so much pressure on the cost side, it has become more important than ever for private colleges and universities to strongly communicate the links between what they provide and the resulting outcomes.

This is especially the case because only 26% of working Americans who went to college strongly agree that their education is relevant to their work and daily life, according to new findings from the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey. Yet an alum’s perception of relevance is the primary driver of whether or not they believe they received a high-quality education that was worth its cost. That’s why some higher ed experts recommend as we now understand them and instead blending different skill sets for tomorrow’s hybrid jobs, or integrating the arts and humanities into STEM degrees; why institutions are considering innovations like Purdue’s move to embed data science in every major and Hiram’s rebuilt interdisciplinary and experiential curriculum that it’s billing as “the new liberal arts”; and why faculty and administrators will gather at “Liberal Arts Illuminated” next month to discuss ways of ensuring the transformational outcomes of a liberal arts education are available to all types of students.

No matter what, connecting the educational experience to students’ lives beyond graduation is essential in today’s higher education marketplace.


Varying Degrees 2018

The report also shows four out of five Americans of all political persuasions view the colleges near them positively. (New America)

Relevance and Higher Ed Value

There’s “a glaring divide in the significance of relevance and the number of consumers actually experiencing relevant coursework.” (Strada/Gallup)

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No question, today’s higher education leaders are actively engaged in consequential conversations that go far beyond the historical stance at many colleges and universities to “build it and they will come” or “promote, promote, promote.” Any naïveté that those are viable strategies today is overshadowed by the significant consequences of not becoming more market smart about the laws of supply and demand.

Fortunately, the prevalence of more consequential conversations has been a catalyst for the art and science of marketing to become better understood and implemented—by some colleges and universities. If higher education is to be perceived as relevant, then senior leadership and the campus community must give more attention to enhancing the overall educational experience via core elements of the marketing mix. Actions speak louder than words.