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Karen Dwyer: Is Your Degree Worth the Cost?

A degree makes you more marketable, and there are ways to increase your value once you get your foot in the door of a company

You’ve graduated from college. You have your degree in hand, and you’re eager to join the work force. However, as a recent graduate you’re entering the work force amid high unemployment rates, and it may be difficult to land that first great job.

Karen Dwyer
Karen Dwyer

There is no doubt that you might be wondering if your degree is worth the cost since the average yearly price tag to attend a four-year public university was $7,020 in 2009-10, according to the College Board. The annual cost for attending a private university this past year was nearly four times greater than a public university at an average of $26,273.

The monetary and time investment required to complete your degree is definitely worth the cost. You are more marketable, and you possess proven discipline to accomplish your goals. Recent studies also confirm that college degrees can result in higher earnings and lower unemployment.

Over the course of a college graduate’s working life, he or she typically earns more than a high school graduate. According to a study conducted by PayScale for Bloomberg Businessweek, a college degree may earn you closer to $400,000 more than a high school degree over 30 years.

PayScale’s study also revealed which colleges are most worth the money. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology topped the list for best annual return on investment. The average cost in 2009 to attend MIT was $189,300. However, the 30-year ROI is calculated at $1,688,000 — for an annual return of 12.6 percent.

In addition, top jobs for 2009-10 bachelor’s degrees are for software design and development and field engineering. Results of a summer 2010 Salary Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers show these degrees respectively garner average salary offers of $62,505 and $60,920.

It’s a tough job market, but in May , the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree was 4.7 percent, half the rate for high school graduates. The unemployment rate for high school graduates was 10.9 percent.

A college degree will help you stand out in the crowd and is often required just to get your foot in the door at certain companies or within certain fields. Once you get your foot in the door, there are several things you can do to get the most out of your degree and increase your value within the company.

Show your leadership skills. You have had numerous opportunities in college to develop your leadership skills. Try putting those skills to work by taking the lead on new projects. Or, if you see opportunities for process improvement, make a presentation to your boss on how your suggested improvements can impact the bottom line.

Be professional. Prove that you’re a professional by preparing for meetings, doing your research and dressing for the job you want — not the job you have. Brush up on your e-mail etiquette and writing skills. Begin networking with professional groups, and volunteer for the tasks at work that others don’t want to tackle.

Offer solutions. Show your value by being creative, thinking strategically and offerings solutions. Sometimes it’s easy to get so involved in details that you miss the overall picture. Approach each project strategically by setting goals and objectives. Strategic thinking will lead to more solutions and will help lead to more opportunities for your career growth.

A college degree is valuable and can put you at a greater advantage in the job market. By putting these tips into practice, you can help improve the value of your degree and your worth to the company.

— Karen Dwyer is owner of Express Employment Professionals, 1025 Chapala St., Suite 206 in Santa Barbara. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.

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