If you’re clicking on this article, you might be asking yourself whether it’s worth it all to pursue a college degree. PBS recently pointed out that “the value of a degree is eroding,” and there are plenty of articles about rising student debt and bleaker employment prospects for recent grads. So, is it still worth it to get a college degree?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a resounding yes — a university or college degree is a major asset to most people once they hit the job market. But that doesn’t mean that all degrees are created equal.
We had the opportunity to speak with Dennis Bonilla, the executive dean of the College of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix, and he gave us some insight and advice to help you choose the right degree to meet you career goals. Though he speaks to certain specific services offered by the University of Phoenix, these examples provide a helpful idea of what to look for and think about — wherever you choose to further your education.
1. How can I ensure that a college degree program is relevant to my career aspirations?
Research – Once an individual knows which career they would like to pursue, it’s important to determine the specific skills required to enter the industry. Review job postings in the field and evaluate the list of academic credentials and skills necessary for employers. If you have a “dream” employer and position, review the hiring qualifications to determine which degree program is in alignment with what is required by the organization.
Informational Interviews – Identify local leaders in the industry and request an informational interview. Company management or human resources can tell you the education level and specific degrees they look for in job applicants and it may be a great entry point to establishing relationships with leaders in the field.
Choice of Educational Programs – One of the best ways to ensure education will be relevant and applicable to your career is to find an educational provider that offers industry-aligned curriculum. Increasingly, universities are working directly with industry leaders to develop curriculum that meets the needs of employers, which ensures that graduates are trained for success in the job market across a variety of industries.
2. How do I decide what type of degree I should register for — bachelor’s, master’s, associate’s degree etc.?
Evaluate the options and ask for guidance: Different career paths require different levels of education, so it’s important to identify what program and degree level best aligns with your career goals. Many jobs now require a master’s degree, while other may require an associate’s degree or certificate. For professionals whose industries do not require a bachelor’s degree or who would like to supplement academic credentials, many universities offer stackable certificates and professional development coursework, which provide valuable skills and knowledge linked directly to the industry. Stackable certificates are a great option for those looking to re-career or “upskill” in their current careers. Many colleges and universities offer services and resources to ensure you are getting an education that will be relevant to your career and support your success along the way.
Personal factors: Higher education is a big commitment, so before you embark on any program, make sure you are ready for the time, financial and emotional commitment that goes along with earning a degree.
3. What are some examples of degrees that people don’t think to apply for, but have amazing career potential after graduation?
As the Executive Dean of University of Phoenix’s College of Information Systems and Technology, naturally I’ll be the first to tell you about the numerous opportunities in the IT field. Technology is impacting and enhancing nearly every industry, so getting a degree in IT will provide a job candidate with many opportunities. For example, if your passion is healthcare, getting a certification in database administration could be utilized to work in health administration.
The need for information security professionals also continues to grow. The recently released Global Information Security Workforce Studyestimates that the global shortfall in the information security workforce will reach 1.5 million in five years, so there is a critical demand for professionals in this industry area.
Outside of technology, there is a wealth of opportunity in business. Retail is a field that offers greater career potential than many people realize. More than 40 million working Americans are currently employed in the retail sector. Although, it might come as a surprise that 44 percent of those employed in this industry do not work in a sales position, there are marketing and communications roles, as well as accountants and finance managers and IT and app developers in the retail space. In the last three years alone, the retail industry has grown by more than half a million people, and is projected to hire more than a million more by 2022.
Another growing area in business is human resources. The role of the HR professional is transforming. Not only are professionals required to carry out traditional duties such as administration of employment and health benefits, but today’s organizations are looking for strategic thinkers in HR that can help drive company growth. From an increasingly globalized and remote workforce, to complex employment laws and healthcare coverage options, organizations need human resources professionals equipped with the skills to meet the dynamic needs of today’s businesses and organizations.
4. Which are the most in-demand degrees?
From a trend perspective, degrees in business tend to be very popular as they are widely applicable across a number of industries.
In terms of job potential, information technology professionals are in high demand across all industries and, as a result, there are many exciting opportunities in growing and emerging specialties in the IT field.
For example, the cyber security industry is experiencing an explosion of growth in both the public and the private sectors. Peninsula Press, a product of Stanford University Journalism, recently studied data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and concluded that more than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs are unfilled. Postings are up 74 percent over the last five years.
In addition, demand for information security professionals is expected to increase by 53 percent through 2018. These vacancies persist despite a myriad of salary and other incentives. Educational opportunities in this field range from certificates all the way through advanced degrees. This is truly an opportune field for those with an interest in technology and security.
5. What should I think about when I know I want to further my education, but I’m not sure which degree/career to pursue?
It is important to pursue your passion. We spend a lot of our adult lives at work, so doing something you enjoy can make a huge difference in your quality of life. Take the time to think through your interests and skills and how they may align in the workforce. It is also key to determine which of your interests may be in industries that are experiencing growth, such as technology, so that once you are ready to enter the workforce, you will have options available.
Other factors to consider include:
- Do I want to study online or at a campus?
- How long will my program take?
- What are the costs associated with my degree program?
- Do I have the option to accelerate my program?
6. What should I look for in a degree program to ensure that it will prepare me for the work force?
It’s essential to identify a degree program that builds the skills needed for the industry and that the program curriculum is developed with the needs of today’s employers in mind. Speaking from my own experience with the University of Phoenix, the school has curriculums that are developed by subject matter experts and the instructors are current professionals, many of whom who make hiring and business decisions every day. This provides students and graduates with an education and a relevant skillset that is directly transferrable to the workplace.
7. What are some school services that students may not know they can access to help them figure out which degree to take?
Many colleges and universities offer tools to help current and prospective students find a degree path that is appropriate for them. For example, University of Phoenix offers Phoenix Career Services™, an interactive suite of resources and online tools that helps students uncover areas of interest, identify potential best-fit careers and provide a better understanding of the local job market. This includes the University of Phoenix Career Guidance System, a suite of services to help prospective students explore career options before enrollment to ensure they are pursuing the job that is right for them. Services like these help students create a personalized career plan upon enrollment to assist them in developing the skills and competencies required to pursue their desired occupation.
8. What other advice do you have for students who are struggling to select the right degree for them?
I would advise people to think through the experience they desire and choose an institution that offers the right tools for success. Some things to consider include:
- Staff at the university dedicated to support you in your degree program
- Access to online textbooks so you always have access to course materials
- Prior to enrolling, talk with a counselor about what tools and resources the university offers to better understand how the university is going to support you throughout your education journey
- Whether you have previous credits that might apply to your new program
- Whether the university has the proper accreditations for the program you want to study
With a myriad of schools from which to choose, tools such as College Navigator, offered by the National Center for Education Statistics, also provide a guide that allows you to search for schools, build lists, compare different colleges and pinpoint school locations.