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Depreciated Value of a Bachelor's Degree Due to Frequent Career Changes

Lack of career guidance in college causes a sever drop in ROI for the cost of a Bachelor's degree due to people frequently changing careers.

Photo of Marina Terteryan
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We've all heard the statistics that Americans change their career up to 7 times in their lifetime. I believe this is partially attributed to a flawed guidance and career preparation in the education system. With so many job changes, one's degree soon becomes worthless and contributes negatively to the economy and education system by causing a ripple effect.

Take Sally, a college graduate who did find a way to pay for college, and ended up in a career that was good enough. Soon thereafter, she suspects this career may not be best suited for her strengths and begins to become unhappy. Several years later, after she is married and has children, she can no longer stand to be in such an unfulfilling career and decides to switch careers. Unfortunately, what she wants to do next will require several more years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars. The family will take a significant dip in income and savings, making her unable to save for her own children's education. Thus, a cycle is created.

This article in WSJ highlights the that significant career changes "entail major costs in retraining and pay cuts—plus, in the current job climate, the risk of not finding employment." 

Without consistency in earnings, this creates a cycle of inability to afford education for both mid-career and next generation individuals. With so much of our society emphasizing fulfillment and happiness, and 52% of  Americans unhappy with their chosen careers, this is an issue that needs to be addressed at the root because it is not going away anytime soon. 

A number of my acquaintances are going through a career change now. One friend is switching careers from a psychologist to occupational therapist. He "fell into his career" because he wasn't aware of all his options and received no guidance during his undergraduate studies. In order to make the switch now, he has had to quit his full time job and take 2 years of full-time science prerequisite classes at the local community college. It took an additional two semesters because many of the classes were often full and he was not considered a "priority student" to get early registration access. After that, he will have to apply for a Master's program at an occupational therapy school, then wait until the next fall semester before he can enroll. The program takes 2.5 years. The entire process takes him a minimum of 6 years of lost full-time income and social costs. He says that he briefly considered this switch while working on his Bachelor's degree, but he did not know enough about either career, nor did he have the guidance and support to look into it at that time.

I just purchased Bernie Roth's book The Achievement Habit, in which he discusses his life-changing "Design Think Your Life" curriculum at the d.school. My heart mourned the loss of what could have happened if I were among the lucky students who had experienced this class in my early 20s. My entire universe would have been different. I can only imagine how much stronger our education system, and our society, would be if this were taught in every school.

Whether we eliminate the fiery hoops that our education system creates for us, or evolve the learning landscape to circumvent the system, one thing is for certain. We need to bridge the gap between education and career so that degrees aren't just a piece of paper.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How might we better bridge the gap between education and career, to create a sustainable education ecosystem for future generations?

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Photo of Kévin MASSE

Thanks for sharing this!