Beyond Earnings: The Value of a College Degree
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character––that is the goal of true education.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Seeing beyond the trees for the value of college
Remember the Non-Monetary Benefits of College
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Commission on the Value of Postsecondary Education is focused on making the case for the value of a college degree. The center of their mission is focused on earnings potential as a measurement of value of college. College counselors have shouted out for years that college graduates earn 66% more than a high school grade over their lifetime according to the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education. This is vitally important to know, especially as students and their families borrowing student loans to pay for college. But think about the other benefits that Dr. King spoke of? In fact, there are even more. Developing critical thinking skills, exploring creative problem solving, expanding a student’s social network, and enhancing civic participation are also a part of the value proposition.
Americans love to tout their innovation. Critical thinking is at the foundation of innovation process. It identifies the problem to be solved and then strategically analyzes the solutions to introduce a new method, idea, or product. College course cultivate questioning what the student is learning, what others are saying, as well as the student’s own thinking. To prove a hypothesis, a student must challenge it. This means identifying personal biases, recognize contradictions, and reflect before drawing a conclusion. It's no wonder why critical thinking is a part of the value of college.
Creative Problem Solving
In college, students are rarely giving the answers. Professors typically provide minimal assistance and leave it to students to struggle with the concept to identify their own unique path to solve the problem. Professors are the experts that habitually encourage students to learn that creative problem solving takes time and that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Plus, when working with group of other students, a broader range of potential solutions will surface, creating deeper learning and engagement. Problem solving is a key component to the value of college.
We’re not talking about the movie – it’s about those folks in college that become lifelong friends. Some it is the proximity of living in close quarters. Some of it is the camaraderie of cramming for exams together. Some of it is being the rock for another person when their heart is crushed, they puked on someone else or don’t get that dream job. Some it is the pure laughter and comfort when lounging around and being yourself. The value of college includes the strong bonds made in your college social network because these friends see and enjoy the evolution of the person.
Plus, beyond cultivating meaningful relationships with those you are attending college, you can also benefit from being a part of an alumni network that can help you along the way. Alumni associations and career services offices encourage making connections with alumni in your field, especially when you are venturing down a new career path. These connections can not only help you to better understand what may lie ahead, share lessons learned, and open doors along the way.
As a democracy, we rely on civic participation. This civic engagement comes in many forms, such as participation in recreational or service organizations, volunteering time to serve others individually or in groups, and supporting a political candidate or attending a political gathering. Colleges foster open discussions of differing viewpoints, facilitate volunteer work and community service learning, and promote student participating in political research and advocacy. Studies have shown that people with bachelor’s degrees exhibit more civic engagement than high school graduates. In fact, people with associate’s degree may be less engaged than bachelor’s degrees recipients but are still more engaged than high school graduates (see What’s a Degree Got to Do With It? The Civic Engagement of Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree Holders by Mallory Angeli Newell). Our nation benefits from this component of the value of college.
Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid and paying for college expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education. She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatromoney to transform the way families afford college.