Is My College Education Worth Having?

By Nicole C. Lacey

Akinade Aderele, a fourth-year architecture student at Illinois Institute of Technology, views a college education as a down payment on a long-term investment in the future of his home country.

A native of Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria and the largest in Africa, Aderele misses home, but says his decision to leave his homeland to travel nearly 6,000 miles to the United States was a good one. With Chicago being known for its architecture and its connection to some of architecture’s most important trailblazers, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Aderele says it was important that he come here.

“It is one of the biggest and best urban labs in which to study architecture,” says Aderele, president of the IIT Student Government Association.

Akinade Aderele
Photo by: Michael Goss

But for Aderele, his decision to attend Illinois Tech goes much deeper than personal gain. He believes that a college education is the bedrock supporting a nation’s economic prosperity, especially in countries like Nigeria that are struggling to gain solid economic footing. For many Nigerians, the decision to travel abroad to gain that education is becoming increasingly popular due to current challenges that exist in the Nigerian higher-education system.

“The major problems are due to public strikes and university strikes, some of which could extend the duration of a student’s stay in the university by up to two years,” Aderele explains. “The second reason is that the overall quality of education is not on par with American universities.”

Aderele maintains that society can thrive most effectively through the efforts of its educated citizens.

“Any major advances made by countries are the result of a focus on education. I would like to hope that an investment in education may eventually save countries like my own,” he says. “The cost of a college education is higher than it has ever been before, and this reason among others, such as accessibility to information through the Internet, has caused people to question the relevancy of a college education. In some cases this may be true, but for most people the stepping-stone of a college education in the context of future success is invaluable.”

Influenced by his own childhood in Nigeria and many of the struggles he witnessed firsthand, Aderele plans to use his college education to design and manage urban-renewal projects that focus on developing housing and infrastructure for those living in poverty with little access to electricity, plumbing, and other basic conveniences.

That goal—paired with his parents’ gentle encouragement to give back to his country with the education and experience he has gained in the U.S.—is Aderele’s daily motivation. He also thinks of his younger sister who is majoring in industrial engineering at Drexel University and who wants to return to Nigeria. The two siblings share the same desire to improve the living conditions there.

“My dream is to use my college education to help Nigeria become a better country,” he says. “Looking at it economically, since my parents and many others have invested so much in my education in the United States, I want to be able to pay those dividends back home. I look at my country and the African continent, and I see the potential that they have. Why not use my education to make improvements and harness that massive potential?”