“No period of my life has been one of such unmixed happiness as the four years which have been spent within college walls.”
—Horatio Alger Jr.
I have been following the recent debate about the value of a college education with great interest—and a bit of dismay. Many argue that the return on investment of time and money to earn a degree must be offset by high career earnings and low student debt. Some insist that value cannot be measured solely in monetary terms but must factor in a person’s capacity to be a global citizen and critical thinker. Still others believe that the ultimate payoff of a college education is in the networking that takes place on campus, in the personal relationships and the professional connections students can establish and upon which they draw throughout their lives and careers. In fact, all of these are valid criteria for return on investment.
As someone who has spent his entire adult life in academia, I would argue that the chance for oneself to build and strengthen intellectual capital is a primary reason why a college education and the overall campus experience are of great value. A student’s undergraduate or graduate years will likely be one of the few opportunities when learning and discovery come first.
For many of us, our own college years may have been one of the last times we stayed up all night debating the future of modern architecture, arguing if leadership can be learned, or discussing how to stop global warming. Engineering students took a humanities course just because it sounded interesting and some of us went to a lacrosse game even though we knew nothing about the sport.
Education is more than a collection of courses. Its full value lies not just in what students learn in the classroom but also what students choose to do in the time they are on campus. If they opt to only go to class and take exams, then the return on their investment will be disappointing.
If our students use this time to think big thoughts, see where their imaginations take them, try something new, seek out challenges, become inspired, argue, wonder, discuss, and ponder, then the value of their college degree will be exactly what it should be—priceless.
John L. Anderson