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Context Florida: Ed Moore: Placing value on higher education

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Recently I read an opinion piece by Teresa Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia, in which she highlighted four kinds of value in higher education.

Her writing is relevant, especially with conversation in Washington, D.C. focusing on two benefits of a college education – getting a job upon graduation and how much a graduate will get paid.

Sometimes, other values get lost in these discussions. Among them: raising the probability that you’ll have a comfortable and secure lifestyle; institutional accountability; the economic value of universities’ research; and assessing the cost of getting a college education.

Let’s examine the first, not from the perspective of what your wages might be at your first job, but by taking a look at a lifetime of work. On average, someone with a baccalaureate degree will earn more than 1.6 times the lifetime earnings of someone without a degree. Add in the value of post-graduate degrees and this figure rises.

In tough economic times, those with degrees are more likely to stay employed. The unemployment rate for college graduates is about half of those without degrees.

Another value is the intrinsic benefit of learning. By attending class for four years, most students learn critical-thinking skills that enable you to consider and assess various points of view. College should be a place of challenge, a place to expand your reasoning skills. It’s a time for introspection, reflection and exploration.

Life often gets in the way. For some people — for whom I hold particular admiration – their determination to get a degree overcomes the responsibilities of life such as work and family. They know the diploma is more than the value of greater earnings. It is a milestone in their lives and a personal achievement.

Florida is rich in educational opportunities. There are options close to home, options farther away and even a wide range of options you can tackle right from your own home via the Internet. The association for which I serve as president has a combined menu of over 320 fully online-degree programs.

Will the amount you spend to earn a degree pay off for you in the long run? Do the rewards justify the investment of time and money? Will you live a better and more fulfilling life after having invested so much time and money? All the indicators say yes; emphatically so. I would add a fifth value that has nothing to do with economics.

Can you develop an intellectual curiosity and a life of hunger for learning and knowledge without going to school? Possibly, but rarely. College opens doors you might never realize existed. College is a pathway to make anyone smarter and more intellectually diverse.

Sullivan ended her op-ed with this: “At a time when the value of college education is under such intense scrutiny, colleges and universities need to demonstrate their value in every sense of the word.”

I encourage all to reflect upon your own lives and how they were changed by education. As Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia wrote, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” 

We are the better as a society for having educational options available for all.

Ed H. Moore resides in Tallahassee and has spent a lifetime of unbridled curiosity. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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