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Report Recommends Weighing Labor Market Data in College Choice

Rather than just focusing on which college to attend, a new report from the Aspen Institute encourages high schools to counsel students on programs offered at schools and expected labor market returns.

By looking at program-level job prospects, students are more likely to to make informed choices about the return they are likely to receive on their investment, the report suggests. Counselors can also help students differentiate between similiar programs offered at multiple institutions to find the best fit, rather than basing the decision on the reputation of the institution, according to "From College to Jobs," released by the Washington-based nonprofit on April 23.

The report includes eight papers from experts, such as Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University and Thomas Bailey of the Center for Community College Research at Columbia University, and discusses which data sets can be used to analyze labor market returns on different kinds of higher education offerings and the implications of their research.

Just how the value of higher education can be measured is a thorny] question but there is a new urgency to answer it, the report notes. The researchers find that students follow varied pathways to credentials and the labor market returns vary widely as well. Information on graduates' employment and earnings, while valuable, can be misleading if it doesn't also account for noncompleters' outcomes, the experts say.  While completing a degree generally pays off, the report notes that certain clusters of courses alone can boost a student's income and job prospects.

It may take years for the kinds of analyses that these researchers present to provide a complete picture of the value of higher education, but the report finds trends emerging that can assist policymakers and administrators as they work to increase college completion.

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