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The Job that College Does: Expectations vs. Reality

the job that college does

Here is a million-dollar question for you. What do you expect from college? Take your time and think carefully. Do you apply to fulfill your parents' expectations? Do you seek admission because that's what everyone seems to be doing? Do you enroll because a degree makes you more employable? Or do you go there to actually learn the skills you will need in your career?

Most often than not, it's some combination of all of the above. However, does college deliver on any of the promises? Let's find out.


Maybe not everyone, but most young people in America go to college right after finishing high school. That definitely puts some peer pressure and parental expectations into the equation. However, for 83.5% of freshmen, the decision to enter college seems to be intentional and goal-oriented: they expect it will help them get a better job in the future. Moreover, they believe that college will give them all the necessary skills to succeed – not only a coveted degree. Which is a stark contrast with merely 26% of graduates thinking their education is relevant to their career and life in general.

What happens along the way?

The most fascinating part is this. College graduates with bachelor's degrees do get access to higher salaries and earn more than their peers with only high-school diplomas or professional training. However, they still tend to experience what Education Next calls the "educational version of buyers' remorse." In short, they expect more from college than they eventually get. How can one explain that?


Among the main reasons are steep tuition costs. Most high-school graduates, especially those who are the first in their family to enter college, cannot afford full tuition. Therefore, they are bound by the student debt, and their higher earnings barely compensate for that. Whereas their unencumbered peers that joined the workforce right after high school may earn less but have more to spend.

Count in the opportunity cost of four years' worth of employment, fees for courses lost in changing the major, tutoring, and occasional academic writing help, and it all crops up to an impressive amount – little by little.

"Well," you might say, "degree-holders will get the return on their investment someday." Eventually, yes. However, according to Allie Bidwell's investigation, it takes the average bachelor's degree holder about 21 years to pay off their student loan, instead of 10 years rather optimistically envisaged in the standard federal repayment plan. No wonder college graduates feel so disenchanted. The return they get for their investment is underwhelming, to say the least.


Meanwhile, 20% of good jobs (that is, paying $35,000 to $45,000 a year) are available for candidates with only a high school diploma. Another 24% are accessible for middle-skilled candidates with certificates. Why everyone insists on the diploma then?

Despite college credentials being a sign of persistence and diligence, too often, employers set this requirement without any correlation with skills needed for filling the position. They see a bachelor's degree just as a nice bonus, but not a prerequisite for being fit for the job. Taking decades to repay, that's a heck of an expensive bonus to have on your CV! That is why high schools in many states take decisive steps and match their students through internships with good-paying jobs that do not require a college degree.

However, what can you do if you have already entered into this tough deal?

Luckily, there are ways to alleviate your debt. For example, some companies offer their employees tuition reimbursement programs – on a pre-payment or refund basis. Here is the list of the big ones:

  • Papa John's offers 100% compensation towards undergraduate business and IT courses for all employees who have been working at least 90 days.
  • Amazon gives 95% pre-payment for certificates and associated degrees in select occupations for employees who are with the company for at least a year.
  • Fidelity compensates 90% ($10,000 a year max.) towards a work-related certificate or degree for all full-time employees who have been with the company for at least 6 months.
  • BP reimburses 90% for pre-approved courses for all full-time employees.
  • Procter & Gamble compensates 80% for a pre-approved college course/program related to a potential position within the company.
  • Walmart pre-pays online degrees from their partner colleges for their employees who have been with the company for at least 90 days and participate in the program for a $1 daily charge.
  • Starbucks covers full tuition in an online degree program at Arizona State University for employees that have worked 240 paid hours for the company.
  • Chipotle repays $5,250 a year toward a college degree, GED, ESL for hourly and salaried employees, and 100% towards select degrees from their partner program.
  • T-mobile compensates $5,000 per year towards a college degree for full-time employees who have been with the company for at least 90 days ($2,500 part-time). Also, 100% reimbursement for an online degree in partner colleges.
  • Verizon compensates $8,000 per year towards job-related programs ($5,250 per year if not related) for all full-time employees.
  • Ford gives $6,000 toward GED, college degree, or pre-approved certificate course to all employees who have been with the company for at least 90 days.
  • AT&T offers $5,250 a year toward college degrees for full-time employees who have been with the company for at least 6 months.
  • Geico gives $5,250 per year towards undergraduate education for full-time employees.
  • Bank of America covers $5,250 a year toward job-related degree programs for all employees who are with the company for at least 6 months.
  • UPS compensates $5,250 per year for all employees from day one with the company.
  • Capital One reimburses $5,000 per year for full-time and $2,500 for part-time employees.
  • Anthem gives $5,000 a year for tuition to full-time employees who are with the company for at least 6 months ($2,500 a year for part-time employees).
  • Home Depot gives $5,000 a year toward a college degree from day one for full-time employees ($3,000 for hourly, $1,500 part-time).
  • Wells Fargo offers $5,000 per year for tuition for all benefits-eligible employees.
  • Best Buy covers $3,500 per year towards education costs for full-time employees who have been with the company for at least 6 months.
  • McDonald's compensates $3,000 per year with the manager's approval for full-time employees who have been with the company for at least 90 days ($2,500 for part-time).
  • Target offers $3,000 per year towards an undergraduate degree. You must be employed when you enroll.
  • Lowe's compensates $2,500 per year for full-time employees who have been with the company for at least a year.
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