A longer version of this article appeared in Forbes.
Americans are bored at work. Nearly 70% of us are unhappy with our jobs because they’re just that: jobs. Not our calling.
Jobs and callings are two very different things. A job is what you have to do to pay the bills. A calling is what you get to do. In fact, a calling revolves around something you can’t help but do. When you’re in your calling, you’re at the top of your game, putting your best talents to use.
How do so many miss theirs? Plenty of reasons, but here’s a common culprit: Students are making poor choices about careers and education.
Imagine buying a house just by standing in the front lawn, crossing your fingers, and hoping it works out. You’d be out of your mind not to scope it out on the inside, compare prices, and check your budget.
But that’s how many students choose their college and career. They simply don’t have the data they need to know the colleges, the programs, the career options, or themselves nearly well enough to make a good call.
And the economic impact? Huge.
1. Student debt
The student loan debt is nearly $1.3 trillion, spread out over 42 million borrowers. Seventy-five percent of grads are in debt (average is $37K per student), a full 45% of which now declare that college wasn’t worth the cost. Grads are delaying important life steps such as starting new businesses, purchasing homes, getting married, and saving for retirement.
Why? Of course, college always costs money and not all debt is evil, but too many students are investing in expensive degrees that don’t prepare them for in-demand careers, prepare them for careers they dislike, or leave them in so much debt that the pressure is on to get any job after college, rather than a career they love.
2. College attrition
As much as 33% of students never make it to sophomore year—and 72% of those quit because of poor academic customer service. These students don’t feel like the college values them, that it has their best interest in mind, and that it can actually help them reach their goals. They grow skeptical about the value of their education.
The result is serious attrition trouble. Colleges are losing $16.5 billion annually (average $9-10 million per institution) due to students dropping out. In a nutshell: When students don’t have a sound strategy for career and education, colleges suffer right alongside.
3. Businesses losing workers and productivity
US companies spend $72 billion every year on recruiting—an average of $4,000 per new hire. But as disengaged workers leave for greener pastures, turnover costs another hefty sum: Lower-wage jobs cost an average of 16% of the worker’s annual salary to refill, mid-range jobs cost 20%, and executive positions cost as much as 213%.
Even when dissatisfied workers stick around, their lack of fervor results in $450-550 billion in productivity loss. The constant struggle to find and keep talent is just another consequence of students meandering through college into the labor market without solid data to guide them.
Solution: Help Students Become Better Consumers
These are not three separate problems. These are three heads of the same problem. How do we fix it?Help students make data-savvy choices about college and careers. We want them to be smarter consumers of their own futures so that they stay engaged in college and choose careers that fit their strengths and interests.
High school and college students need to be a lot more thoughtful as they choose higher education. The point isn’t to go. The point is to gain an affordable education that prepares them for work they love. Students need a vision for the future—which leads to the next point.
Students need to spend more time finding their calling. This requires teachers, counselors, and especially parents to help them find careers that match their personalities and interests—before selecting a college or degree. I’m not saying they’ll have it all figured out. I’m saying they should have a pretty good idea of where they want to go and a plan for how to get there.
They should start by asking themselves: How can I use my strengths and interests in the labor market? What problems would I like to solve? Is there sufficient demand for the career of my dreams? Will I make enough money to raise a family or hit other important goals?
Students need to evaluate the costs (time + money) and benefits (earnings + opportunities) of their education. They should ask even more tough questions: How much debt will I be in after college? (Don’t forget room, board, transportation, etc., on top of tuition!) Will my future salary allow me to pay off this debt reasonably soon?
As students become more proactive consumers, colleges will enjoy sturdier enrollment and feel less pressure to recruit like mad for fear they’ll lose a third of their freshmen. It’s also much easier for colleges to engage and motivate already confident, career-oriented students, so the attrition problem will begin to heal itself. Businesses will flourish as these students enter the labor market and land the right careers—inspired by their work because they are doing what they love.
When students know their calling and prepare wisely, everybody wins.