WORCESTER, Mass. — May 1 is the deadline for parents across the country to send a commitment check to the college their son or daughter plans to attend. A lot of research, college visits, cost calculation and thought goes into this decision. Parents and students have become a lot more savvy about asking colleges whether the price tag is worth it and one university in Worcester is putting that information front and center.
After a campus tour at Clark University, Karen Fitzpatrick, of Birmingham, Ala., said she’s thinking about whether a Clark degree would secure her daughter’s future.
“I think it would matter to know that she had enough to live comfortably, or without fear, not necessarily tons, but enough so she can be independent as soon as possible,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I think it’s very important,” agreed her daughter, Isabel Tankersley. “I want to feel stable, like I can land on my feet or if I’m going to be OK.”
This desire to land on your feet is making college choice more reality-based for families than it has been in the past, according to Clark University President David Angel.
Because parents “want some greater traction and some, frankly, greater evidence about what a particular college or university will do to ensure the investment they are being invited to make [will] pay off,” Angel said.
Clark University has launched a new website that tries to reassure parents. It’s called the Return on Education, a play on the familiar phrase “return on investment.”
The website lets anyone search by major or industry the jobs Clark graduates have secured. In its early stages it’s a pretty basic tool, explained Paula David, vice president of marketing and communications for Clark.
She looks up history on the website and goes to a pull-down menu.
You can see that an English major is now a photojournalist for National Geographic, and a communication and culture major is now a senior program manager at EMC.
The career paths can be surprising. Clark is trying to highlight that with videos of graduates including Matt Goldman, co-founder of Blue Man Group.
“Even though I had gone to school and had done an economics degree and an MBA, I still felt in my inner core that I was an artist,” Goldman explained in a promotional video on the school’s website.
Clark’s alumni office is surveying graduates to get more specific information about jobs and salary ranges. Currently, its Return on Education site uses compensation data from a public website.
Most colleges have this kind of general information on graduates somewhere on their websites, but it’s usually too unwieldy for parents to piece together. But when the average price of college is $35,000 a year and Clark costs $45,000, it’s important to be transparent about results, Angel said.
“We believe colleges and universities also need to do a better job becoming accountable for the results of education,” he said.
Parents and perspective students have been accessing this website since it launched in January and Jarrad Nunes, associate director of admissions, says they are more focused on life after college.
“When we meet families at college fairs at their high school, that comes up very often,” Nunes said. “It’s most often the parents that ask the question, the students are focused in on the details of the living experience.”
Clark said its Return on Education tool puts the school front and center as the country is talking about whether the high price of college is worth it.
President Obama is warning schools to keep their costs from rising or he will cut back their federal grants. The pressure is mounting, and that could encourage schools to be more accountable.