College is one of the largest single investments a family will make. According to the College Board, average annual out-of-pocket expenses to attend an in-state public university exceed $14,000, while comparable costs for a private four-year college top $26,000 a year. Multiply those figures by the four to six years it takes the typical student to complete college, and you have an expense that falls somewhere between the cost of a new car and new home.

Too often, when selecting a college, prospective students and their families don’t take the entire cost into consideration. Instead, they look to other factors such as academic reputation and campus amenities that have little to do with the ultimate results and outcomes of a college education.

In other words, families have been committing to a sizeable investment without much more than a clue as to the return they can expect on their investment. Worse still, college-bound students have had to pick their colleges without really knowing whether the skills and competencies they would gain while pursuing their college degrees would actually meet the needs of employers, once the student graduated and was in the job market.

It’s not surprising, then, that Gallup surveys disclose that both graduates and employers give colleges and universities generally low marks for preparing students for the workforce.

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Families have been committing to a sizeable investment without much more than a clue as to the return they can expect on their investment.

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The good news is that data now are available to permit prospective students and their families to see how graduates of specific college programs are faring in their careers — whether they are employed, what they are earning, and whether they are engaged with their work and in their lives following graduation. In fact, forward-looking states like Colorado are turning these data into powerful new tools to help students and families pick the right college program.

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation announced a new interactive website called Launch My Career Colorado,

This free, open website helps students and their families consider their college options based on the outcomes and returns from specific college programs, answering critical questions such as:

  • What students can expect to earn following graduation based on specific college programs.
  • The demand for jobs in the student’s field of study both statewide and for select metropolitan areas.
  • Whether students’ planned education pathways will allow them to achieve their lifestyle goals and how long it will take to achieve those goals.
  • How much more a student pursuing the college program can expect to earn over 20 years compared with what a high school graduate earns.
  • Whether others who have pursued the same college program are happy with their jobs and satisfied with their lives.

The website is a joint project supported by USA Funds® in collaboration with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Gallup; College Measures, a unit of the American Institutes for Research; and local partners.

Launch My Career Colorado is part of a 12-state, $3.5 million initiative funded by USA Funds® to develop new and more effective models for measuring college value to help students and their families, policymakers and postsecondary institutions make more-informed decisions about the training and skills that will provide the greatest value to students and their communities.

We hope this new college selection tool will help change the way Colorado families think about selecting a college program.

Students and their families need to consider the entire pathway to and through college and into careers following graduation, and to select the college program that most effectively helps them achieve those career aspirations. With Launch My Career Colorado, they now have a tool to help them make that important decision.