For high school seniors, college and Disney World have some appealing similarities. Both offer a wide array of options. Some of the options will prove to be wonderfully engaging and enjoyable. Others will be okay...not great but not bad. Some classes will be marvelous, leading the right student to want to learn more and more. Others may seem to last forever, and just getting out with a passing grade is the ultimate goal for those.
It is the differences between college and Disney World that offer some insights into the daunting challenges that face students graduating from their respective institutions. The visit to Disney World ends when you leave and go home. Happy memories are the only thing that really carries forward. With college, the choices made follow the students for years and often through their entire lives. For the vast majority of high school seniors, the choices they make about college and about the majors they will pursue are irrevocably linked to their career success and in turn, to their financial success.
How has it been working so far? In the United States, students have acquired a $1.2 trillion debt. The primary cause of this is that the average college student changes their major three times. The traditional methods of matching students with majors using interest surveys is not working. Each change of major adds time and consequently, more cost to their education. The average time to complete a “four year degree” is 5.1 years.
The other critical issue driving this colossal debt is that about half of the students graduating from college are not working in jobs related to their majors. This means that they studied baseball for four or more years and then joined a hockey team. Since the skills did not quite match, often there was a discount in the salary offered.
• A Gallup poll found that if it was possible, 51% of college graduates would change at least one of their education decisions.
• 36% would choose a different course of study.
• 28% would choose a different school.
The United States has over 2,000 4-year colleges and universities plus another 2,000 2-year colleges. There are majors and courses of study to fit any student’s strengths, abilities, talent and interests. There are institutions with facilities and programs to match the academic and social needs of any type of student. Unfortunately, few students explore many schools beyond the most common ones in their area. Even then, the focus is on the “top-rated” ones, often without regard to how well that may match the needs of the student. Many students arrive at college on their first day without ever having visited the campus. College counselors tend to specialize with schools with which they have experience and relationships. What this means is that despite the incredible range of options that exist, most student are choosing their colleges from a relatively tiny set of choices. It is clear that students and their families need better information to make these important and expensive decisions.
One of the most popular tools that counselors use to help students select careers and majors is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. However, it is difficult to justify such popularity with the track record of student counseling. The average student changes majors twice. The impact of this on retention, progression and graduation numbers is dramatically expensive. Looking beyond education, the majority of employees admit to being dissatisfied with their career choices. It’s clear that the MBTI’s contribution is sketchy at best. In fact, the National Research Council, in response to the Army Research Institute’s request, conducted a rigorous examination of the effectiveness of the MBTI. Their finding was “There is not sufficient, well-designed research to justify the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in career counseling programs.”
It is not a bad instrument. It is an old instrument. Myers-Briggs was put together in the 1940’s by a mother and daughter with no psychological training. They were fascinated with Carl Jung’s model of personality types. Jung considered it an “interesting parlor game,” not to be taken seriously. You can have a lot of fun with it. It produces interesting discussions. It is not a serious business tool. It does not measure anything. It simply sorts people into an artificial model for the sake of discussing differences. About half of the people will produce different scores when they take it again. In the 40’s,50’s and even 60’s, the MBTI provided information and insights that offered essentially new discussions for most people. Early televisions were introduced in the 40’s and people were amazed as they watched basically three networks. Over the decades that followed, televisions offered bigger pictures, then color pictures and now high definition giant screens with hundreds of program choices. People embraced these advances. It was not because early tv’s stopped working. It was because newer science and technology offered more benefits. The science of psychology and the technology that drives psychometrics have made equally dramatic advances. Myers-Briggs did not stop working either. Science simply moved on. The MBTI is almost 80 years old, based on a model not accepted by top psychometricians. It lacks any measure of cognitive abilities, a critical element in today’s educational and business world. Continuing to use outdated tools denies students the advantages of better information and furthers the expensive misdirection of the past. There are new generations of options that have the potential to transform student counseling into a truly powerful resource.
With 25+ years of experience in psychometric assessments, he has a library full of boring books and has taken over 100 of the 80,000 occupational instruments out there. Whew.