Fifty-three years ago, I went off to college with a plan to be a doctor. I had no idea how much it would cost nor how much debt I would have when I finished school. I had no idea how much money I would make, but I knew doctors made better than average income. I wasn’t worried about any of those issues; I just knew I was excited about learning how to take care of people.
Today, it’s much more complicated. Young people are worried about the amount of debt they will have when they finish college. They’re worried about the income they’ll make to pay off that debt. They’re worried about finding a job in their chosen profession. I don’t envy their situation; but at least they have better tools to make their decisions than I had.
Florida is one of several states that have passed “right-to-know” laws that provide young people information that assists them in choosing a career and a college to prepare for that career; or maybe instead of college a trade school. Last year Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill to make it easier for high-school students and parents to find more-affordable college paths and financially rewarding degrees.
Tarren Bragdon, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says his eldest son, a 10th-grader, is already considering whether college will help him become an entrepreneur. His daughter, a ninth-grader, has already told him she wants a “return on investment” for whatever path she picks post-graduation. He and his wife also have twin boys in seventh grade. They’re still five years away from finishing high school, but he’s already worried about the cost of possibly having four children in college at the same time!
To assist them in their planning, the State of Florida now has a web site called My Florida Future, that lets students and parents see average actual earnings for degree programs one, five, and ten years after graduation; average student loan burdens; comparisons of earnings across all 12 state universities; and other helpful information. Using this information, their son has already learned that a degree in business administration at Florida Gulf Coast University near them will pay 10% less than the same degree at Florida State University. After five years, the gap will be $7,900. But he can also see that 42% of business and marketing majors graduate with loans, and more than 20% walk away with more than $20,000 in debt. As a result of this information, he’s already considering other options, like marketing, that could help him learn sales and succeed more quickly as an entrepreneur.
For their daughter, they’ve learned that a career in fashion, which means a degree in fine arts, (who knew?) pays less than a degree in food science. In the latter program, she could be making $100,000 a year a decade after graduation, nearly twice as much as the fashion career likely will pay.
Florida is not alone in providing this information. In the past two years, 10 states have enacted such measures, and some have gone further. West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri take an even broader approach than Florida to providing families with useful information about college expectations. Most will list their states’ most in-demand jobs and required education levels, the average cost of every college and vocational school, and the average monthly student loan payments and default rates for each school. Additionally, some states will extend the transparency to both public and private schools. Many databases will also give students the typical starting salaries for graduates of trade schools, as well as a breakdown of the benefits of apprenticeships and technical education programs.
It’s a different world from when I went off to college. I’m glad students have much more information available as they consider their futures. But, the most important thing they have to decide is what career they are passionate about. When you know that, the rest is really unimportant.