Why You Should Treat Your College Diploma Like a Share of Stock

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Shutterstock/Karen Roach
Once you and your college friends have graduated, you may believe you can stop thinking much about what happens on campus at your alma mater. But you have a vested interest in your college's well being, even after you have your sheepskin.

Think about what your school and its ongoing reputation say about you. What if your college or university fell apart after you graduated? Would that make your diploma worth less? Would it hurt your career prospects?

That very scenario happened to a friend of mine. His college almost lost its accreditation. The consequences of such an institutional failure can be disastrous for an alumnus, especially if you're depending on your degree and your college's reputation to get you into grad school or to help you land a good job.

Your ability to affect your school is likely far greater than your ability as a stockholder to influence a publicly traded company.


This raises some interesting questions: Should you take an active role in preserving your college's legacy after you've graduated and moved on in life? And should your college's misdeeds and misfortunes affect you and your career?

You College Diploma Is Like Stock in a Company

The college you attend says a lot about you. You should treat your diploma like a stock certificate, a share in your college or university that rises or falls in value based on reputation rather than earnings.

"After graduating from college, a wise alumnus will want the very best for his or her alma mater -- and not just for nostalgic reasons," says Shari Fox, executive vice president of O'More College of Design in Franklin, Tenn. "As a college grows in prestige, all who have obtained a degree from that institution bask in that glory. However, if an institution is to fail, all alumni are tarnished by the poor reputation of the defunct school."

How Much Do Your Career Prospects Ride on It?

Does your employer even care where you went to college? Could a degree from a now troubled school hurt future promotions or new job opportunities?

"I think so," says Mia Myklebust, director of marketing at CollegeMapper. "Your college's continued success is a reflection on the degree that you hold from that institution."

While it's true that your performance in each subsequent job you take eventually comes to matter far more than where you went to school, employers are still going to look at your credentials. Your alma mater will remain a reflection on you as a potential hire, says Myklebust.

Do You Want to Get a Graduate Degree?

Most grad schools place a strong emphasis on where you got your bachelor's degree. If your alma mater is having reputation issues, it could seriously hinder your ability to get into a good program. And having a graduate degree has a direct impact on your wallet. Studies have shown that employees with a bachelor's degree earn significantly more than workers with only a high school diploma. And those with a master's degree earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over the course of a lifetime than those with just a bachelor's degree.

Since that's that case, we should be protecting and supporting our undergraduate institutions, if only order to maintain our edge in the workforce.

Give More Than Money to Your Alma Mater

One way you can influence the college you graduated from is to stay involved -- and, happily, your ability as an alumnus to affect your school is likely far greater than your ability as a stockholder to influence a publicly traded company.

Whether you give money or time, simply being involved is one of the best ways to help enhance your college's reputation. Whether you realize it or not, you're a spokesperson for your school -- no matter where you work and travel.

"It's up to me as an alumnus to do my part to continually bolster my school's reputation," says Joseph Terach, career expert and CEO of Resume Deli. "That means giving back with my time, expertise and financial resources."

Terach says it also means hiring interns from among the current student body, and looking at your fellow alumni to fill open positions.

Danyelle Gary, publications specialist at Albany State University, also recommends donating money to help keep your college financially stable.

Every alumnus should take a personal interest in the well-being of his alma mater. Your college's reputation matters -- to you, your future employers, and graduate schools you want to attend.

When you buy shares of stock, you have a vested interest in seeing their value grow. It's the same with the reputation of your college. You only benefit from seeing it continue to rise in stature.

Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.

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