Almost Half Of Recent Grads Regret Choosing Their School Or Major

NYU Graduation at Yankee Stadium

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NYU graduation at Yankee Stadium on May 16, 2012.

There's an ongoing debate about whether the investment in college is worth it, often spearheaded by employers, politicians, or entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel.

We don't spend enough time asking the people who have the most skin in the game — the recent graduates of America's colleges and universities — what they think. Chegg, an online student hub that connects students with the tools, textbooks, and support they need, and McKinsey, surveyed 4,900 recent graduates on how they felt the higher education system has served them for a report titled "Voice of the Graduate."

As Chegg CEO (and former Yahoo COO) Dan Rosensweig put it in an interview with Business Insider, "students always get report cards from professors and institutions; this is the first opportunity recent grads have had to give their institutions a report card." Advertisement

"Students are giving their colleges and institutions a failing grade," Rosensweig says.

College is still closely linked to a nation's well being, but we're not reaching our potential.

The survey found some pretty discouraging results. "Graduates are raising serious questions about how effectively some colleges function as a bridge between high school and the workplace," the report says.

  • Nearly half of recent grads are working in jobs that don't require a degree. That number rises by 11 percent for grads of public institutions.
  • Almost a third of students feel underprepared, like they don't have the right skills for the job market.
  • More than half of recent graduates, on entering the job market, wish they had chosen a different major or school.
  • Of America's top 100 schools, 41% of graduates couldn't get a job in their chosen field. Nearly half all graduates couldn't, as the below chart shows:
  • Nearly six times more graduates are working in retail or hospitality than actually wanted to.
  • Liberal arts graduates in particular are lower paid, deeper in debt, and less happy with their jobs.

"What we're saying is that the students have spoken, and they are not happy," Rosensweig says. "They would choose a different outcome from a different place. A different major, a different school, a different set of skills. We need schools and institutions to recognize that and change as quickly as possible."

Students don't ask the questions they need to, like how often students graduate in four years, what percentage of students are employed within six months of graduating, and what percentage of students get jobs in their major. They need to be encouraged to do so, and schools need to have those answers. And schools are evaluated by things like selectivity, not how they help students prepare for the workplace or support their job search. Advertisement

Things are moving in a troubling direction. Instead of expanding curriculums to include the skills students really need now, many institutions, particularly public ones, are cutting back. That means students have to spend longer to graduate and go deeper in debt, without getting an education that's any better suited to the world we live in.

The key to solving it, Rosensweig says, is using technology to break down some of the barriers and habits that have held higher education back and kept it from adapting, to focus more on specific skills, and creating more entrepreneurial students.

For one, schools need to start expanding online offerings and accepting online credits from places like Coursera and beyond. Not only does that vastly expand the curriculum and allow more skills-based training, it breaks down some of the unnecessary geographic and time-of-day barriers to people getting an education. Advertisement

"We believe that this could be turned around through technology," Rosensweig said. "We believe that we can make education more affordable, more accessible, more personal, and more relevant."

Part of that has to come from the employer side too. More and more companies are producing content related to the skills they want and need from potential employees. Places like Chegg are collecting that material and matching it to students. With the help of schools and institutions, some of the disconnect between higher education and the work world can be closed.

Some of these trends can be explained by what continues to be a weak job market, but not everything. Advertisement

"We want to set off an alarm bell," Rosensweig says. "Recent graduates are telling you that you have to change aggressively and faster. I see lots of institutions moving in the right direction — though not all of them — but we need faster change."

Find the full report here.