Dear Commons Community,
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article that asks the question: What a college degree is worth? Interviewing a number of individuals including educators, most respondents indicated it was more than just earning power. Here is a sample:
John C. Hitt, President of the University of Central Florida. “… the true power and gift of higher education—it transforms lives.”
Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin, President of Amherst College, “College is for finding a calling, or many callings, including the calls of friendship and love.”
Phyllis M. Wise, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Good universities find a balance where students are free to form their long view of the world while at the same time acquiring the knowledge and skills to pursue a rewarding profession. “
The response I particularly liked came from Frances Bronet, dean of the school of architecture at the University of Oregon.
“As rising college costs have loaded more and more debt onto the backs of Americans, the return-on-investment conversation seems inevitable—and perhaps prudent. But a single-minded focus on money pays little heed to one of the best aspects of the American higher-education system: its skill at developing curious, critical-thinking, culturally aware people. Those qualities may have greater financial rewards than critics realize.
Frances Bronet…knows that defending this mission sounds elitist. She grew up intensely poor in Montreal. “There was no way I could go to school and not have an immediate return,” she says. “My parents already thought that my going to school was an opportunity lost.” She went to McGill University and majored in architecture and engineering—technical fields she knew would pay.
Now one of her great regrets in life is not having gotten a broader liberal-arts education. “We talk about people being entrepreneurial, but it’s really about being creative, thoughtful, and critical,” she says.
When she taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, her department surveyed engineering alumni, asking what they felt they had missed in their education. Graduates who were a year out of college wished they had gotten more technical skills. Those who were five years out wanted more management skills. But alumni who were 10 to 20 years into their careers wanted more cultural literacy, “because they were traveling all over the world, working with cultures they never experienced before,” she says.
Now if we get more of our legislators thinking this way, American higher education may continue to be the envy of the rest of the world.