Yes, I am a college graduate. Class of 1996 from Winona State University.
And yes, I am currently an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas.
And yes, I am raising the (increasingly) legitimate question: Will tomorrow’s social media and digital marketers need a college education?
I say “increasingly” because we’re starting to see some signs of a potential shift in secondary education in the digital marketing world. And it really comes down to two big factors:
1 – The value/cost equation
According to recent data, the average cost of attendance at a 4-year college is $35,331. That’s $141,324 for a college degree (if the student graduates in 4 years, which I did not!). Once a student graduates with a degree in marketing, the average salary they make is $52,988. On the mass comm side, it’s substantially lower at $38,310. So, let’s cut it in the middle and say roughly $45,000 a year for an average starting salary, which feels about right. According to State of MN data, it would cost a single person roughly $37,000 a year to live in Hennepin County (where many marketing/comms jobs are in Minnesota), leaving a new student with just $8,000 discretionary income for the year. Hardly enough to pay down the loans typically required to pay off that $141,000 of college expenses. You know where I’m going with this. And increasingly, many students do, too. Which is why you’re seeing more opt for different post-high school options. Trade schools. Military. Community college. All offer lower cost options with bigger rates of return on the back end. The kids aren’t dumb–they see the writing on the wall. And it’s not saying “Go to college” like it was 30 years ago.
#2 – Are kids learning the skills they need in college?
For students that want to go into digital or social marketing the answer is pretty murky. At St. Thomas, where I teach, the comms majors really only have one class where we touch on social media or digital marketing (the class I teach)–and you can imagine the ground I have to cover in that class. Marketing majors have a few more options–but not a ton. Typically students seeking digital or social jobs are entering the workforce with very little training or skills development that employers are looking for. This is why in my class I force the kids to learn tools like Hootsuite, Facebook Business Manager and Google Analytics. I also try to give them “real world” experience developing strategies and tactics for actual clients. These are the experiences and skills kids need to enter the modern day workforce in our field–and colleges just aren’t giving students enough of it.
Now, you might say, “college is bigger than just learning specific skills for your career–it’s about learning how to be an adult and growing up.” I would absolutely agree. However, that $140,000+ price tag is awfully big for the opportunity to “grow up.” I think our kids need more.
What’s more, another area colleges typically fall down on: Teaching our students how to find jobs and network when they graduate. Colleges just aren’t doing enough (if anything) here. And that’s not me speculating–I’ve asked the kids! It’s why we talk a bit about networking, LinkedIn and jobs in my class–even though it’s not a class about those things. So, our post-secondary institutions aren’t doing a great job preparing our students with the skills they need for digital jobs. And they’re not helping them FIND these jobs on the way out the door.
It’s no wonder we’re starting to see more people opt for different options.
And I tend to think we’re going to see more students go down that road.
The current environment is absolutely ripe for an opportunity for someone to step in and provide a hands-on training program for people looking to enter digital and social marketing fields. Remember Brainco back in the 90s? It was a school you could attend to build out your creative skills if you were seeking a job in the ad industry. It feels like something like this could emerge for digital and social right now.
You’re seeing people learn in different ways, too. Even right in/on social media. Jen Hartmann, who leads PR/social at John Deere, started this very interesting conversation last week. Although she still sees a huge value in college education, many people in the comments weren’t so sure. That tells you a little about where people’s heads are at in 2022.
Tweets are not a substitute for a college degree
A Twitter thread cannot replace a thought-provoking book
You will not transform your copywriting, digital marketing or social media career by reading a 10-tweet thread
How did #MarketingTwitter get hijacked by this nonsense?
— Jen Hartmann (@jenalyson) June 2, 2022
The last factor I want to point out is one raised by Matthew Kobach last week. And it has to do with engagement. I can absolutely verify what Matthew is saying here. In my last two classes I taught at the University of Minnesota and St. Thomas, engagement was far lower than I saw before the pandemic. Kids were missing class ALL THE TIME. And administration knows they have a problem. It may not be a problem they can fix either. The problem, at least in digital/social, may be that college isn’t the right answer.
What’s going on at college campuses?
I’ve now heard from multiple professors that attendance is the lowest they’ve ever seen, the students that do attend are disengaged, and administrators have been largely indifferent.
Any college students have insight into what’s going on?
— Matthew Kobach (@mkobach) May 12, 2022
Like I said at the outset, I’m a college graduate and an adjunct professor. I’m a big believer in college education. But, I can’t help but think: Is it still worth it in 2022 for people looking to go into digital and social media marketing?