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Running head: FINAL PROJECT

ENG 7702 Final Project

Lindsey Farmer
East Carolina University


Final Research Article
Target venue
The Community College Journal of Research and Practice:

Students, parents, and governments are required increasingly to invest more financial
resources toward higher education degrees than ever before. As such, the need to weigh the
costs, both literally and figuratively, versus the benefits emerges as a legitimate topic of research
in the field of higher education. In 2010, the American Council on Education polled recent
college graduates, and out of those graduates, 89 percent said their education has value, and
97 percent of institutions agreed that, despite a necessary significant investment of time and
money, college was worthwhile (Whissemore, 2011, p.9). With the cost of tuition rising,
student loan debt soaring, and students spending longer spans of time working on degrees,
understanding the worth of a college degree proves essential if students are to maintain
enrollment in higher education programs. The following study examines the lifestyle benefits of
earning a college degree measured in terms of career satisfaction and retirement goals to
determine if the advantages outweigh the financial burdens of higher education.
Research questions
While existing research overwhelmingly supports the financial benefits of earning a
college degree, gaps in the research occur when considering personal advantages in lifestyles of
college graduates versus those with only high school diplomas. Few researchers make mere
mention to the statistics proving that college graduates have better health, lower divorce rates,
and lower teen pregnancy numbers than non-completers (Adam, 2006; Adam 2012). However,


little substantial evidence in terms of lifestyle advantages is provided that would further the
argument for earning a degree of high education.
To specifically address the current research gaps, the following question was posed: Do
the lifestyle benefits of earning a college degree measured in terms of career satisfaction and
retirement goals outweigh the financial burdens of higher education?
Defined variables were used to guide the research and categorize emerging themes.
Job satisfaction:
1. Do participants enjoy their overall current professional situation?
2. Do participants believe that earning a college degree contributes
to overall professional satisfaction?
Retirement goals:
1. Do participants believe that having a college degree provides
professional opportunities, which will make retirement goals
2. Do participants believe that having earned a college degree
will enable them to retire at an earlier age than if they had not
earned a college degree?
The theoretical orientation of this study is centered on the phenomenon of a specific kind
of group college graduates. The main research focus is to determine if particular lifestyle
aspects of college graduates make earning a college degree worthwhile despite financial
obligations associated with attending college. To further support the research focus, Mayos
(1933) social and human motivation theories are utilized and note that factors other than pay


and physical working conditions, such as social and emotional aspects of working in wellfunctioning groups, affect work motivation (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p.149).
While financial incentives, such as higher wages and benefits packages in the workplace, serve
as predictable motivations for earning a college degree, other less tangible incentives, such as
lifestyle benefits, enhance the work performance for employees.
In addition, Herseys (1932) research specifically examines career satisfaction and
retirement security in relation to job production. He found that workers are equally concerned
with intrinsic stimuli as with financial gains. Outside factors influence job performance just as
much as employer-controlled financial aspects. Herseys findings prove significant when
considering the purpose of this study. The need for more research regarding lifestyle benefits is
evident through his extensive examination of workers and their professional motivations. To
increase productivity, employers must tap into inherent incentives that could potentially increase
from earning a college degree.
More modern social motivational theories, such as Carstensen and Fungs socioemotional
selectivity theory and Ajzens theory of planned behavior, support Mayo and Herseys ideas that
intrinsic motivations lead to goal attainment and professional interests beyond financial gains.
Carstensen and Fungs research specifically details the motivations that come into play as related
to a persons age and goal setting. As people age, they tend to set attainable goals than those
who are younger and/or perceive time as relatively open ended (Cartensen & Fung, 2004, p.
68). The findings are significant as the research supports the notion that goal setting is tied to
internal factors, such as aging, which individuals cannot control externally. By examining
participants personal beliefs regarding earning a college degree and its tie to attainable


retirement goals, Cartensen and Fungs research backs the current research in that the motivation
to set goals directly links to intrinsic rationales.
Those same intrinsic values and beliefs prove essential when establishing personal
perceptions, including the worth of a college degree. As Hurtz and Williams (2009) discuss
Azjens theory of planned behavior, internal influences, such as attitudes, are the affective and
instrumental evaluations of the activity by the individual (p. 636). Their research, which
measures employee participation in developmental activities, illustrates that the internal
employee attitudes directly impact their willingness to participate and the perception of the
activity (Hurtz & Williams, 2009, p. 650). As a result, for purposes of the current research,
participants attitudes or beliefs regarding the worth of a college degree may play a key role in
determining degree value. While impossible to measure through this short-term collection of
data, future research may use the theory of planned behavior to determine if those who believe a
college degree leads to professional satisfaction and attainable retirement goals prove more
successful than their counterparts who think the opposite. Nevertheless, the theory that
subjective values, and not concrete facts, motivate and influence human actions is essential to the
current research.
While the noted theories primarily relate to workforce motivations, the concepts seem
applicable to educational stimuli as well. Although classroom grades serve as the most common
and logical motivation for participation and intellectual productivity, educators may actually
benefit from considering the social and emotional benefits that enhance student academic
behavior. The theories of Mayo, Hersey, Azjen, Fung, and Cartensen all agree that internal
motivations are direct human behavior and produce results accordingly. With this in mind and
within reason, administrators may consider writing institutional policies related to student social


drives, and instructors may study intrinsic incentives when constructing classroom curricula. As
community colleges move toward funding models based on completion, and not enrollment, such
motivational theories could play a key role in identifying methods to increase student graduation
rates and achievement.
As such, community college educators may find the research interesting and useful when
encouraging or persuading students who are contemplating leaving college prior to earning
degree in order to enter the workforce. As already noted from the read literature, the financial
gains from earning a degree far outweigh any immediate financial solutions by entering the
workforce without a college degree. Moreover, as the following findings indicate, intrinsic
lifestyle benefits also emerge as major factors when determining the worth of a college degree.
Finally, community college student populations consist of non-traditional students who
have responsibilities beyond their educational endeavors. Because community college students
are older in age when compared to their counterparts at four-year universities, Carstensen and
Fungs goal theory may aid in helping students set manageable graduation goals. In addition,
community college students seem to constantly struggle with the need to remain in college
versus the need be employed and earn wages. The findings from this study may enhance
community college educators arguments for earning a degree when working with students who
are weighing their options.
Two research methods, personal interviews and questionnaires, were used to collect
qualitative data on career satisfaction and retirement goals, respectively. One criterion was used
to select and eliminate participants; only college graduates were asked to contribute. All
participants had earned at least one college degree to include associate degrees, bachelors


degrees, and masters degrees; one participant was pursuing a doctoral degree. If participants
held multiple college degrees, they were asked to reflect on all of their college experiences when
responding to the posed questions.
An email was sent to eight participants requesting their participation in the study, and
seven agreed to take part. All were staff members of the Division of Student Services at a North
Carolina Community College. Based on the participants profession in higher education, it may
have been assumed that participants would be inclined to agree that no matter the cost of a
college degree, the outcomes were worthwhile. However, when specifically studying the
variables of career satisfaction and retirement goals, such assumptions could not be concluded
when considering this particular group of participants. All were state employees who received
little to no salary increases in the past six years and had experienced few opportunities for
advancement due to state-imposed hiring freezes.
Career Satisfaction
Career satisfaction was measured through the use of personal interviews. Five questions
were asked, and each interview lasted approximately 15 minutes. While the questions were
close-ended and required a yes or no answer, participants were also asked to explain their
yes or no answers. In a few instances, multiple participants responded to a question with
both a yes and no answer.
Table 1.1 details the asked questions along with the tabulation of responses and notes
regarding the interviews. Although the interviews were not all conducted together, common
responses were mentioned and noted.


Table 1.1
Interview Question
Earned degree was contributing
factor in being hired



YES and NO

Use knowledge/skills earned in

college in current profession

Selected the "right" course of

study in college

Overall enjoy current

professional situation

Earning degree leads to overall

career satisfaction

All agreed that it was a job requirement
for their current position.
Two participants said they did not use
knowledge/skills earned in their
undergraduate degrees; however, they do
use the knowledge/skills earned in
graduate degrees.
One participant said she feels that she
selected the "right" degree; however, it is
not the only degree she could have
selected that would have been "right".
Several participants noted that while they
enjoy aspects of their current position,
there are aspects of their position that
make their job unenjoyably. As a result,
their overall experience is questionable.
All agreed that having a college degree
opens up career opportunities that lead to
overall career satisfaction.

Retirement Goals
Retirement goals were measured through the use of a questionnaire. Five questions were
asked, and participants were asked to circle either yes or no depending on their personal
experience. On question three, one respondent chose not answer the question and instead wrote
in her response of kinda. Table 2.1 details the asked questions along with the tabulation of
responses from the questionnaire.


Table 2.1
Survey Question



Important part of life process


Plan to work past age 62

Already identified specific

retirement goals
Professional opportunities lead
to achievable retirement goals
College degree enables earlier


"NO ANSWER" marginal note

states "kinda"

Career Satisfaction
Several respondents noted that while their course of study in college did not exactly fit
the requirements of their current positions, they have adapted the knowledge/skills earned in
college to fit the requirements of their current position. In addition, several participants noted
that the overall college experience equipped them with the soft skills (time management,
prioritizing, leadership, organization, etc.) needed and valued in the workforce. They all agreed
that having a college degree opened, and continues to open up, opportunities for career
advancement and satisfaction that they do not feel they would have been afforded without a
Table 1.2 offers a visual and overall perspective of the results of the personal interviews.
While over half (four) participants answered that they both enjoy and dislike their current
professional situation, all participants agreed that earning a college degree led to overall career
satisfaction. As Hurtz and Williams (2009) note, creating and maintaining positive attitudes in
the workplace encourage a positive and supportive social organizational environment so that



employees feel supported (p. 652). Despite the fact that most of the participants admitted to
disliking aspects of their current situation, their belief or attitude related to the worth of obtaining
a college degree led to overall career satisfaction. The findings support the idea that a college
degree is worth the financial burdens when measured in terms of career satisfaction.
Table 1.2





YES and NO

Selected the
factor in
degree leads
being hired skills earned course of
to overall
in college in
study in
situation satisfaction

Retirement Goals
Table 2.2 illustrates the overall perspective of the worth of earning a college degree when
measured in terms of retirement goals. The respondents overwhelmingly agreed that having a
college degree opens up professional opportunities, which leads to achievable retirement goals
and earlier retirement.
All respondents agreed that retirement is an important part of life. Although all also
agreed that a college degree allows for an early retirement, only slightly more than half (four)
said they plan to retire by the age of 62. None of the respondents noted that they have specific
retirement goals. While the ages of participants were not collected nor noted, Carstensen and
Fungs socioemotional selectivity theory may explain why respondents asserted that while they
planned to retire by the age of 62, they have yet to identify specific retirement goals. As



Carstensen and Fung (2004) note, goals are always set in temporal contexts (p. 68).
Individuals assign priority to goals as they feel they are aging closer to attainment. Thus, longterm goals are given less thought than goals that seem to be achievable in the short-term.
Overall, just as with the results of career satisfaction, the findings support the idea that the worth
of a college degree when measured in terms of retirement goals, outweigh the financial burdens
associated with attending college.
Table 2.2


Important part
of life process

Plan to work
past age 62

retirement goals

lead to
retirement goals

College degree
enables earlier

The findings for both career satisfaction and retirement goals reiterate the importance of
Mayo and Herseys previous research conclusions. Their research emphasizes the necessity of
incorporating social aspects into the workplace to increase employee productivity. The current
research illustrates that employees believe social lifestyle benefits increase with earning a college
degree. Based on the current findings and considering past results, a few inferences may be
made and explored in future research. Hiring employees with college degrees may lead to an
increase in organizational efficiency. If employers seek to increase employee satisfaction,



organizations may need to increase professional opportunities related to lifestyle benefits along
with offering fair personnel wages. As such, the findings of this study extend beyond the
perceived worth of a college degree and have the potential to find value in the workplace.
The conducted research indicates two major findings: 1) Having a college degree leads
to achievable retirement goals and overall career satisfaction, and 2) Having a college degree
creates opportunities for retirement and career satisfaction. If the findings remain consistent
when tested in larger populations, the significance becomes important to both college graduates
and non-college graduates. If greater career satisfaction and an increase in retirement goals
result from earning a college degree, the worth of a college degree is validated and possibly
increases. With the national student loan debt soaring in the United States, lawmakers,
economists, educators, college graduates, and future college students are hotly debating the
worth of a college degree. The findings may further the current social conversation and academic
research by strengthening the evidence provided by previous financial benefit returns, offering a
new perspective on the long-term benefits, and/or exposing the lack of benefits related to the
financial burdens of earning a college degree.
College Graduate Responses Versus Non-College Degree Completer Responses
The conducted research is limited in that non-college degree completers were not
interviewed or surveyed with the same questions. If participants who do not have a college
degree were to offer similar responses to the questions as the college graduate volunteers,
perhaps the argument would be strengthened.



More Demographic Information Needed

Having a college degree was the only criteria required to participate in the study. As
such, no demographic data (age, gender, number/type of college degrees, current professional
position, etc.) was collected from participants. While such data would not alter the results, it
may however explain some of the findings. For instance, the education levels of participants
varied from associate to doctoral degrees but were not recorded in the results. Knowing ones
level of education and/or professional position may offer insight into career satisfaction. In
addition, perhaps participants have not set specific retirement goals not because they find
retirement unattainable, but because they are at an age when retirement seems quite distant.
Steps for further research
For the initial research to be substantiated, a much larger population will need to be
interviewed and surveyed. The two factors of career satisfaction and retirement goals are worth
exploring further to bolster the notion that a college degree is in fact worth its dollar amount.
The findings indicate that more research is needed to support the idea that a college degree is
worth earning when measured in terms of long-term life goals. The benefits of earning a degree
extend past financial gains and create a workforce that enjoys its professional environment and
plans to retire earlier. Both are important notions that could be beneficial to both employers and
politicians interested in the financial burdens associated with earning a degree.



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