Performance Task: Is College Really Worth It?

Potential Uses

This performance task is most likely suitable for students in high school or late middle school. Grades 8-10 are suggested. It is based on the suggestion from a headline article in Newsweek magazine that asks, “Is college is a lousy investment?”

Performance tasks can address specific content standards, but this one is multi-disciplinary. It has obvious connections to the social sciences, but argument and persuasion are skills often addressed in language arts classes. Finding and evaluating evidence is a critical aspect of many science classes, while determining the return on investment is actually a real-world application of math skills (think slope). Depending on where it is addressed (language arts, social studies, etc.), relevant content standards can be incorporated. This would require revising the scoring rubric to address those standards.

College Life Sheet MusicGoal

Your task is to determine whether college is or isn’t the best investment for reaching your future career goals.


You’re playing the role of yourself! This is a very personal decision. You’re investigating your own future and the best way to meet the goals you, and perhaps your family, have for yourself.


You need to convince your parent(s) or guardian(s) whether you should or shouldn’t attend college.


For many students, the opportunity to go to college is part of the American dream. The idea that anyone can be a doctor, lawyer, or even the president often hinges on the ability for a student to get into “the right” college. In public schools across the country, teachers are now adopting content standards that purport to help students become “college or career ready,” and the ritual of SATs and ACTs and other high-stakes test are ingrained in the American school culture as a rite of passage before moving on to higher education.

But college costs are skyrocketing, and many people with college degrees are finding it difficult to get jobs in the current economy. Some people graduate from college owing thousands of dollars in loans, money that some suggest could have been more wisely spent. Is college right for you? If so, why? If not, why not?

Product, Performance, and Purpose

You will craft an argument for your parents that describes whether you feel college is or isn’t an appropriate investment for reaching your future goals. You should describe the benefits of attending college, if you decide to attend, and how attending college will help you meet your career goals. If you decide that college is not appropriate for your career goals, you have to present a convincing argument as to why not and what other approaches you might take to meet your career goals. Your argument should contain appropriate evidence in whatever media you determine best supports your argument. Remember, your parents will need more than your opinion. Consider data, charts, video, and images to support your position.

Review the given documents to explore different viewpoints about the role of college and the return on investment of attending college. The documents are designed to provide information from both sides of the decision. You may also conduct additional online research, but you should be able to complete the task with the given resources. Time management is a part of the task. Be sure to follow guidance or expected procedures for using materials developed by others, evaluating the credibility of those sources, and provide appropriate citations following the format expected by your school or teachers.

Document Library:

The document library is presented in alphabetical order by author or organization.

Standards and Criteria for Success

Download this rubric, developed with the help from educators at Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, for one way to evaluate your product.

Photo of College Life sheet music in the public domain.