Strada Education Network believes the best way to understand whether someone’s education is valuable is to ask them. For more than three years, we’ve listened to over 340,000 Americans tell us about their experiences with education after high school. We’ve asked consumers whether they felt their education was worth the cost, and if they felt it made them an attractive job candidate. We call the relationship between those measures the Education Consumer Value Equation. It’s a new, consumer-centered model that expands our understanding of what makes an education valuable from the perspective of the individuals who pursue it.

The Education Consumer Value Equation is the relationship between what an individual perceives to be the cost value and career value of their education.

The insights it provides are important for educators, employers and policymakers to consider. For example, as we focused our analysis on the responses of more than 90,000 Americans who pursued postsecondary education during the past two decades, we found their perceptions of value vary significantly across pathways. Individuals are more likely to strongly agree that their education is worth the cost and that it makes them an attractive job candidate when they can most clearly connect their education to their work. We also see this strong connection between learning and careers when consumers find their courses are relevant to work, when they receive high-quality, applied-learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising.

In an environment of declining enrollments and an unsteady cost-benefit analysis, consumer insights offer guidance and solutions to increase the value of higher education. Consumers tell us they value their education when they can clearly see its connection with careers.

Individuals who majored in fields that are directly connected with specific jobs saw greater career and cost value in their education than individuals who majored in fields of study that develop broader skills, which they may not directly correlate with a job.

Consumers’ voices offer guidance that can transform the value equation in postsecondary education by building on the traditional economic measures of value. It’s time to include education consumers in the conversation.

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