The intrinsic value of a college education

Loras College President Jim Collins
Loras College President Jim Collins

Student cost of attendance has taken center stage in debates about whether higher education is “worth it.” In business terms, prospective students and their families are questioning the Return on Investment (ROI) and value of education, particularly from four-year institutions.

With an increase in the number of Americans holding student debt, that’s not only understandable but appropriate. But to measure a college education strictly from a lens of just dollar and cents, well, doesn’t really make sense.

American society continues to measure an individual’s success and worth by how much money he or she earns. It’s as if money will buy happiness. That’s not at all the case, as many individuals will attest. It cannot buy health. It cannot buy creativity. It cannot buy time. It cannot buy lifelong, true friends. It cannot buy peace. Finally, money cannot buy the deep satisfaction that comes from helping others.

It is important in this context to look at some of the data regarding college graduates and the benefits a degree affords.

A degree enables a graduate to access a variety of job opportunities with greater ease. Longitudinal data overwhelmingly demonstrate that four-year degree and post-graduate degree recipients will have far greater wage earnings over their lifetimes — even if they must incur debt to help finance their education.

A degree has also proven that individuals are more likely to live happier and healthier lives – and not just because they have more money. Degree recipients are more likely to be involved in their communities and vote. Degrees often mean more job security and satisfaction.

Today, four-year colleges and universities can no longer rely on the inferred value of a degree; we must hold ourselves accountable by providing prospective and current students the evidence needed to properly plan for their future.

For its part, Loras College has surveyed graduates to provide an accurate and transparent return on investment reporting. Loras saw 98.4 percent of its 2017 graduates find full-time employment or continue their education within one year of graduation. Unlike most institutions, Loras calculates its percentage by including all graduates and not just those who complete a survey.

Further, we have worked successfully to keep actual cost of attendance in line with public universities while outpacing most in four- and six-year graduation rates.

Loras prides itself in being student-centric. We attempt to value the learning that happens on a primarily residential campus and one that understands the shared benefits derived from inside and outside classroom experiences.

Experiential learning can prove invaluable to students. Loras, like many colleges, works with students to help them identify opportunities that will challenge and expand their knowledge. Through these experiences, students realize their interests and are empowered to own and intentionally shape their education. Such programs also foster connections with alumni, employers, graduate schools and service organizations.

A college degree enables students to see the possibilities that exist across disciplines, particularly those pursuing degrees in the liberal arts or with a liberal arts core. These students can also experience unique lectures, exhibits, concerts, conversations with students from diverse backgrounds, opportunities to engage with professors and coaches.

There are other benefits to college that are often unrecognized. They can enable one to mature, to take risks in an independent, but structured environment, to express oneself and to try things they might not have known even existed.

Furthermore, a residential college provides students a place where they can grow, discover themselves and find their true calling in life.

So, is higher education worth more than money?

Yes. In many ways, it’s priceless.