The ROI of a College Education

It is graduation time for the University of Vermont this weekend. As I was flying back from Kalamazoo, MI this week I happened to sit next to a nursing Professor who was headed to give a talk at the university. We got into a good discussion about higher education and the challenges it faces. Many of her nursing students aren’t finding jobs in this economy and she sees major implications for hospitals as our population continues to age.

I can only imagine that nursing students are in a better position than the Liberal Arts graduates from UVM (which I was one of) this weekend. As a Vermont business leader looking to hire newly minted college graduates we face a host of challenges. While there are many smart and talented students many of them are woefully lacking basic business skills that we need as a software company. They can’t write a decent email let alone a full memo. Presentation skills are low. Excel and Powerpoint are at a basic level. Liberal art students have no exposure to any mid level skill sets such as Google Analytics , HTML, Flash, database reporting tools, or CRM systems.

A four year out of state UVM education will run you $165,832 and the debt load if you financed it all would run you around $1964 a month! Which is why most of my young staff work two jobs to make ends meet. Somewhere along the line Universities lost their way. We now have a system that churns out students that are under skilled compared to their graduating peers we employ in Romania and India where we have some 45 staff members. We typically employee 3-6 interns a semester and many of them we make job offers to as they have the basic skills needed post internship. It amazes me how few local UVM students apply compared to the number we get out of state from say Clarkson. I offered to use my network to set up 50 paid internships for UVM Career Services but it fell into the bureaucracy. As a country we need to have a debate on Higher Education and the return on the investment. UVM has a beautiful new Student Center that cost $61 Million to build. Was it worth the extra debt load placed on students? Would that money been better spent making sure they all had laptops with powerpoint and excel and paid internships? There are no easy or quick answers here but I take heart in efforts like MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Post WWII higher education has been a key driver of equality and prosperity of our country. I look forward to the debate that is emerging about how we regain our leadership in education so that the return on a $165,832 education is worth the investment.

PS: If you are a current or graduating UVM student looking for work/internships I continue the tradition set by my first boss at MTV who I learned a lot from that my door is open for advice Friday mornings at 8:30. Just drop me an email.