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College Regret and Employer Opportunity

In Dana Wilkie’s July 19, 2019 article “Many Grads Have Regrets About College” (, Dana discusses how their regrets can influence work productivity, engagement, and their mental health.

In Dana’s article, she references a survey conducted from April to May 2019 by PayScale - “Biggest College Regrets” ( PayScale reached out to 248,000 college graduates and examined the responses by age, major area of study, and whether participants attended public or private universities. PayScale’s research shows that the vast majority – nearly two thirds – of those with at least a bachelor’s degree regret something about their education. By far the most common regret reported was student loans. No matter how we cut the data, student loans was the number one regret reported. After this, the most common regret was area of study, but this varied greatly by major. Those who majored in technical or high-earnings fields had the lowest rates of saying they regretted their field of study.

PayScale’s research showed that baby boomers do not have regrets about their college education. Millennials, however, were closely divided between “no regrets” and student loans. The difference between the two was a tenth of a percentage point – 28.8 percent of millennials chose student loans and another 28.7 percent reported “no regrets.”

PayScale’s survey goes further looking into the student debt crisis and the lasting effects such a crisis will have on younger generations. The student debt crisis has prompted numerous conversations about the true worth of higher education and whether it will ultimately be a worthwhile return on investment. Results are showing that this is a tough sell for the younger generation.

PayScale also examines the varying degrees of regret via types of majors, with Humanities majors report regretting their area of study at a much higher rate, 21 percent, than other majors. And Computer science and engineering majors had the lowest response rates to regretting their area of study – 4 and 8 percent, respectively.

Their research spotlighted how college regrets vary by major groups, education levels, school types and different generations of students. On trend, student loans are the largest regret at each education level.

With record levels of student loan debt becoming a major source of financial stress for employees, younger workers are factoring in their exorbitant monthly student loan payments when negotiating salaries — a concern that they will likely prioritize to a greater and greater degree as they move past that first job and secure a more stable foothold in the job market. High levels of student loan debt tempt young employees to leave your company for higher salaries. Research by the recruiting firm Recruitifi suggests more than a third of millennials are willing to switch jobs for a pay increase. Makes sense, considering that the average 20- to 30-year-old pays $351 per month in student loans.

An employees’ worries don’t simply dissipate when they walk in the office door. Student loan debt overload takes a toll on employees’ mental and physical wellness; increases their utilization of your company’s health insurance; adds to the number of sick/vacation days employees takes; and reduces an employee’s ability to focus on the work at hand. In fact, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Employee Financial Wellness Survey ( more than half of workers with student loans — double the number of other employees — say they routinely lose work time due to financial worries.

Employers have an opportunity here! Employers should consider offering loan-repayment options as an employee benefit and need to really review the financial wellness programs they have in place to ensure they are adequately addressing their employees’ needs and producing the behavioral change necessary to improve employee financial well-being. PwC’s survey shows that “early signs from those companies that have initiated a holistic and fully integrated financial wellness program have been encouraging with measurable improvements in areas such as cash and debt management, savings, risk management, retirement preparedness, financial stress, and productivity.

Melissa Rothmeyer, SHRM-CP

Rothmeyer | Rothmeyer

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