Mike Havis designed Educate to Career, a non-profit that helps parents and high school seniors make sensible choices about college and career-planning.

By Barbara Lewis

Mike Havis had an epiphany when his son, Benjamin, was a senior in high school.

Benjamin was interested in studying history or sociology at a private university. Mike and his wife, Carol, were concerned not only about the cost but also about Ben’s future job prospects with a liberal arts degree.

A sales manager, Havis, 65, said he wanted to know what the “return on investment” would be for such an education. He knew plenty of college grads who were working in low-wage jobs and living with their parents. What kinds of careers did various majors lead to and how much did those jobs pay? What if there were a database that would aggregate such information?

That was the genesis of Educate To Career, a nonprofit Havis started in 2013 to help high school students and their parents make sensible choices about higher education by making educational return-on-investment data available without charge to anyone with access to a computer.

Close to 70 percent of college students need to take out loans to finance their education, with the average debt being almost $30,000. Minority students and those from poorer families have proportionally higher loans.

Many grads are underemployed after graduation, he said, working at jobs that often don’t require a college education. They struggle for years to repay their loans.

Havis learned, for example, that the highest percentage of history majors were employed as office support staff who now earn less than $30,000 their first year, and as elementary and middle school teachers who earn just over $34,000.

(Faced with those facts, Benjamin, now 28, decided to major in criminal justice at a state university and now works as an insurance adjuster. Younger son Solomon, 26, works for Suburban Auto Group.)

Home Again

Havis grew up in Southfield, graduating from Southfield Lathrup High School and Wayne State University with a degree in industrial design. He and Carol were married at B’nai David Synagogue, designed by his late father’s architectural firm, Havis-Glovinsky Associates.

He lived in San Diego in the 1980s and the Detroit area in the 1990s. In 2007 he moved back to San Diego when he became the West Coast regional sales director for his company. He and Carol returned to Detroit a year ago to be closer to family; they live in Southfield. Educate To Career is now Havis’ full-time job as well as his passion.

One of the organization’s board members, Varda Levy, was the principal of Havis’ sons’ high school. She was intrigued by the project, admitting that her only goal as an educator had been to get her students into college; she hadn’t thought about what happened to them after college.

Levy came up with the name Educate To Career (ETC).

Making the Best Choice

Some students might be better off not going to a four-year college at all, Havis said. They might get much better return on investment — and job happiness — from a two-year vocational degree or from a skilled trade apprenticeship program.

“Think about two kids graduating high school,” he said. “One goes off to college and five years later graduates with a ‘soft’ degree, say history or sociology. He’s earned no income during these years and has tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay.

“Meanwhile, his friend isn’t sure that college is the right path for him, so he goes to community college and takes a job at the local coffee shop. When the first student goes to work at the coffee shop after graduating because he can’t find anything better, he discovers his old friend is now a regional manager for the chain — his boss! He’s earning $60,000 a year, has a 401k account, has no debt, and owns a house and a car. Which path has produced the better return? Which person made the better decision?”

Havis receives a substantial grant from Google Ad Words, which lets him advertise ETC online. It’s working; last year ETC reached more than 1.4 million users, and the list is growing daily.

“If one student saves $10,000 by using our programs to inform college selection, that’s a financial benefit,” Havis said. Multiply that by a thousand students, and there’s a real societal savings.

ETC has a suite of programs. College Buddy shows 48 majors, the jobs they lead to and the first-year average salaries for those jobs; Career Buddy helps students explore colleges and majors based on their competencies and interests; College Business Plan aggregates not only tuition and fees but the costs of books, housing, food and other expenses at the student’s preferred college, then helps families figure out where the money will come from. The Ultimate College List Builder creates a list of colleges personalized for each student.

ETC also shows college admissions probability and college graduation probability for each student and ranks colleges — but ETC uses different criteria — ranking the outcome of the education rather than the caliber of the student. Most employers don’t care as much about how competitive an applicant’s college is. They care about whether it trains its grads to get the job done from Day 1.

In ETC’s college ranking index, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill comes out on top, followed by UCLA and Brigham Young University. University of Michigan holds the No. 8 spot.

Havis admits he’s gotten some pushback from colleges about his ranking system. But parents love it, he says. “ETC continues to set the standard for determining which colleges deliver the best educational value,” he said.

Read more:

College Admission: The Ethical Path

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