Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grad..ually

Four years ago 81% of the people questioned in a study agreed that a college education was a good investment. Today, that figure has changed to 57%. It's not difficult to see why. Many of the students in the last high school classes I taught are living proof. They played by the rules. They graduated from college, most with the help of financial aid. Now they are still waiting tables, living at home, wondering what comes next. Of course this does not apply to all. Some are working in careers like teaching and engineering, some are back into graduate programs and some are carving out an existence by working and doing what matters most to them in any way they can. Maybe there is no job in the particular field they studied like fine arts, dance, psychology, or mathematics, but they have figured out how to do make a small living and keep their interest and passion in another field very much alive. This got me thinking. What kind of investment is a college education. Certainly the financial one is substantial, but that is hardly where it ends. If everyone who wanted a good job that promised a lifelong career with full benefits, could get one without a college education, what would they sacrifice? That is, what comes along with attending college that has nothing to do with investing financially in your future? My response to that question would begin with my own experience. For four years I was immersed in an academic environment that offered, perhaps unrealistically, a opportunity to reflect on big ideas. Reading, thinking, clarifying ideas with others by discussion and representing your knowledge in a variety of ways is the most valuable part of the experience. If college enrollments are in decline, and they appear to be, does that mean fewer people will be critical thinkers? I'm not sure. Perhaps college enrollment and the desire to read books or think deeply are exclusive. How do you put a price tag on what it means to be educated?

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