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Chapter 4

Evolving Educational Models

With costs of a college education remaining high, delivering a strong return on investment for graduates is key. As a result, traditional educational models are changing to emphasize preparations for job seekers entering the workplace.

Potential employers say that subject matter expertise is less important, as they instead look for graduates with strong general business skills who apply problem-solving mindsets to everything they do. Partially to aid in this, college faculty are co-teaching interdisciplinary courses instead of focusing on siloed fields of study. In these courses, students are encouraged to apply learnings from multiple curricula to tackle problems.

At the college level, change is on the horizon. Colleges like Colorado Mesa University say that there is a rise in the number of students matriculating with business minors, or at least the relevant coursework. Some schools, like the University of Colorado at Boulder, are also adding coursework in entrepreneurship to further encourage innovation and risk taking. Students want to demonstrate their work-readiness to employers, and a minor can give them a leg up on the post-college job hunt.

While often we hear costs of higher education are increasing, sources say that baseline costs of providing education have actually remained relatively steady over the last 20 years. However, as governments reduce funding to state schools, the price of education to students (i.e., tuition) is increasing to compensate.

Colorado has reduced its state support for higher education by nearly 69.4 percent from 1980 to 2011. While the state formerly funded two-thirds of the cost of education and families paid one-third, today, those numbers have reversed. Colorado is one of the lowest funders of higher education, ranking 49th in per-student support for higher education.

With costs of education placing heavy financial burdens on families, parents are more frequently stepping in to cover costs that were formerly paid by students themselves. Today 61 percent of families believe that the burden of college tuition should fall on both parties: the student and the parents.

However, when parents are providing the funding, they seemingly want more influence in what their children study—and families are demanding that students pursue more lucrative degree programs instead of more generalized liberal arts majors. Today’s “helicopter parents” expect to be involved in the decision of where to attend school, what to study, where to move after graduation, and which job offer to accept.

Colleges say that students pay close attention to Department of Labor statistics citing which fields are poised for growth and which are on the decline. In 2014, 19 percent of students reported changing majors specifically to pursue more marketable fields.

Students all know the average starting salary, and they all want very badly to be above that average.

Tim Foster, President of Colorado Mesa University

Students are taking on increasing amounts of student loans when they go to college, which means increasing pressures to start paying off those loans as soon as they enter the workplace. In 2013, 55 percent of students graduating from four-year Colorado universities graduated with debt; the average amount of debt was $24,520.

Therefore, while students today are incredibly creative, and many of them are aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators, they must take day jobs with steady income streams in order to pay back student loans. In a vicious cycle, the demands of student debt keep them from pursuing their creative passions—and they end up stuck for years in jobs they once considered temporary. Ironically, the expense of college has kept these students from realizing their career dreams.

As a result of this spiral, some Colorado executives say that money isn’t the most important thing college-educated candidates look for in a job—it’s the ability to work in their desired industry. Potential for advancement is also important, sometimes even more so for non-college educated workers who aren’t as confident about their opportunities to ascend in an organization.