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National Poll: Getting Students Jobs Should Be Higher Ed’s First Priority

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Pittsburgh -- Recent results from the Robert Morris University Polling Institute show that colleges and universities have plenty of room to improve the college selection process, including being more transparent about costs and demonstrating that students will be able to get good jobs when they graduate.

The poll, sponsored by Trib Total Media, included a total sample of 1,003 adults nationwide. Approximately half of those respondents identified themselves as the parents of someone who previously attended college, is currently enrolled in college, or is college-bound. Those respondents were asked to rate nine characteristics of the college selection process, and they gave schools an overall average positive rating of 54.6 percent.

“Our corporate clients strive to attain overall satisfaction ratings in the high eighties. Even health insurance companies and most utilities receive positive ratings in the high eighties,” said Jerry Lindsley, president of the Center for Research and Public Policy, which conducted the poll on behalf of Robert Morris.  

Fewer than 50 percent of parents of past, present, or prospective college students gave schools a positive rating for demonstrating that they stay current with the demands of the job market and that they maintain relationships with employers. Those results should sound an alarm for higher education leaders, given that a large majority of all respondents, 82.0 percent, said that colleges and universities should focus at least as much if not more, on job training/preparation as on academics, compared to those suggesting solely or mostly an academic focus (15.8 percent).

More than three quarters of all those surveyed, 76.2 percent, agreed that they would choose a college or recommend a college based on their ability to help secure a job rather than on being a brand name college.  

That’s why many colleges and universities are putting placement rates – which RMU has long emphasized – front and center in marketing and recruiting efforts, said Wendy Beckemeyer, vice president for enrollment management at Robert Morris University. RMU’s most recent placement rate data, for the Class of 2013, show that 92 percent of students had a job or were enrolled in graduate school within one year of graduation, and 88 percent of those who are working are employed in their field of choice.

Other findings of the recent RMU poll on higher education include:

  • All respondents rated the “value” of an undergraduate degree today lower than it was 10 years ago – 44.6 percent positive value rating today compared to 68 percent 10 years ago.

  • Similarly, a graduate degree today received a “positive value rating” of 57.9 percent today compared to 73.2 percent 10 years ago.  

Wendy Beckemeyer, vice president of enrollment management at RMU, said that a sluggish job market the last several years has created a false impression in the public’s mind that a college degree is losing its value. She cited a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, showing college graduates earn 84 percent more over the course of a lifetime than workers with only a high school diploma. The current U.S. unemployment rate for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree is 2.6 percent, less than half the unemployment rate (5.4 percent) for those with only a high school diploma.

That’s an important message for parents to hear, said Beckemeyer. “RMU is a leader in presenting its results upfront by providing our placement rate for all to evaluate.”

To improve the college selection process and make the cost of higher education more transparent, Beckemeyer developed the College Affordability Academy™, a training initiative for admissions counselors, financial aid officers, faculty mentors, and student support staff to make the college financing system as transparent as possible for prospective students by providing unbiased information about student debt and college financing options, as well as factors such as the impact of campus employment, study abroad, and internships on the cost of college.  

RMU plans to partner with the College Board, PNC, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), among others, to share the College Affordability Academy lessons with high school guidance counselors, state legislators and policy makers, other colleges and universities, and parents and prospective students across Pennsylvania.

“The College Affordability Academy seeks to model a process that will improve the quality of the selection process across the industry,” said Beckemeyer.



ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute. Polling by the institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. RMU polls have been featured in national media outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Huffington Post. Go to rmu.edu/poll for more information.


METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,003 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted May 8-16, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0-percentage point margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.