Twitter Chat: What gives a college degree its value?

BY Nora Daly  August 28, 2014 at 12:34 PM EST

Given the steep cost of higher education, it is tempting to evaluate different courses of study based solely on the return on investment they offer. For many, attending college means taking out loans that may take years to pay off. Factors such as future salary and the likelihood of securing employment post-graduation must be considered. By this criteria, degrees in fields such as business, math and science would be the most valuable, as research by economist Douglas Webber suggests they yield the highest lifetime earnings.

However, this view neglects to consider the intangible benefits of a liberal arts education. Is it possible to measure skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and creative problem solving? How much can success after graduation be attributed to the degree earned and the institution attended, and how much depends on individual work ethic? Is it reasonable to rank colleges and universities against one another when different institutions offer different benefits?

We posed these questions and more in a Twitter chat Wednesday. Michael Roth, (@mroth78), president of Wesleyan University, and Christoph Guttentag, (@DukeAdmissDean), Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University, shared their perspectives on the value of a liberal arts education. Chief Data Strategist for U.S. News Education, Bob Morse, (@Bob_Morse), explained U.S. News’ methodology and criteria for deciding their annual college rankings. Temple University economics professor Douglas Webber, (@dougwebberecon), who simulated earnings trajectories for individuals with different college majors in a recent paper, and Jon Marcus of the Hechinger Report, (@hechingerreport), also chimed in. Read a transcript of the conversation below.