August 6, 2014

Measuring Impact: Findings From a Study of Adult Student Gains and Satisfaction

Aug. 6, 2014 at 08:00 AM | By Todd Bloom and Jim Fong | Comment Count

Much has been written about the value of a college degree and the annual salary and job security that come with it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2012) shows that bachelor’s degree holders earn 63% more than those with a high school diploma or GED.

Over the course of a lifetime, that amounts to a total of over half a million dollars in wages.

Also, the unemployment rate of bachelor’s degree holders is almost half of those with just a high school diploma or GED. The University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and its Center for Research and Consulting (CRC) and Hobsons partnered with eight institutions to determine the impact of credit credentials on the adult learner. Student return on investment (SROI) was measured based on various demographics or occurrence factors, such as salaries, promotions, and raises, and also on intangibles such as feelings of job security and confidence. The survey showed financial and personal benefits that differed by type of credential.

From September 2013 to February 2014, eight institutions were involved in the pilot study. They contributed by providing the names and contact information of adult learner graduates from the past five years.

In total, 990 individuals from seven of the institutions participated in the bachelor’s degree survey, 73 individuals from three institutions in the associate’s degree survey, and 603 individuals from three institutions in the credit certificate survey.

A typical pilot respondent graduated between 2008 and 2013, is between 24 and 44 years old, worked full- or part-time while enrolled, and earned less than $60,000 last year.

In addition, 988 adults who have completed a high school, associate’s, or technical degree — or had some college credit — were surveyed to provide a benchmark with which to compare the pilot survey’s bachelor’s degree completers. The benchmark survey was conducted online in November 2013 with adults representing similar demographics who expressed interest in earning a bachelor’s degree but had not or could not complete a degree.

The objective of the pilot project was to confirm the value of a degree or credential. While this hypothesis has been proven true by other sources (BLS 2012), the pilot project showed positive financial and personal outcomes differed by credential.

Some of the key findings:

  • Four years after graduation, a bachelor’s degree starts paying off, especially with greater job security (4.5% unemployment rate, compared to 8.3% for high school graduates).
  • Most respondents began their programs with significant credits from other institutions — on average about half the credits necessary for their bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs.
  • While many respondents have seen a positive return on investment in the form of promotions and career changes, bachelor’s degree recipients are more likely to experience those benefits.
  • The campus services most used by respondents were financial aid and student support/advising.
  • The survey showed that students experience greater confidence in their work abilities and more security in their careers after earning their credentials.
  • Many respondents have not changed jobs despite having that goal, but most believe their credential has significantly advanced their career progress.


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