In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Obama outlined his higher education initiative called College Scorecard, a database developed by the Department of Education that compares college and university tuition costs, graduation rates, percentage of graduates who default on their student loans, how much money students need to borrow in order to pay for tuition and expenses during a typical college year and the percentage of students colleges to place in employment opportunities following graduation.
In his speech, the President said:
Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new "College Scorecard" that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.
A couple of weeks ago, this column reported that the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston were placed in the Princeton Review’s list of top 150 schools in the United States in terms of value, meaning the cost of tuition and the average amount of federal grants available to students.
Admittedly, finances and the prospects of finding employment following graduation are important considerations in selecting a college, especially in a society emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Indeed, prospective students should make wise, well-informed financial decisions regarding their course of study and find a college or university system that fits with their educational and professional goals.
But what is striking about the President's College Scorecard and the Princeton Review's evaluations, as well as others such as US News and World Report, is that such comparisons fail to account for more enduring values beyond the money students invest or their chances of finding good job opportunities following graduation.
Truth is, there's more to a college education than merely getting "the most bang for your educational buck", values that have no price tag, such as broadening a student’s knowledge of the world, helping them improve social and communication skills, their future contribution to society in their chosen profession and developing the intellectual capacity and flexibility required to adapt to a rapidly changing workplace.
How much these values are worth to a student's future success in life are inestimable and cannot be measured by such ephemeral considerations as value and affordability.
Indeed, the intellectual depth students receive from studying at a highly regarded research institution that produces scholars in science, technology and the arts is worth every penny they pay in tuition, fees and student loans.
Moreover, the value of preparing to work in a profession that offers personal satisfaction and an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society is of inestimably more value than the amount of money a student pays for the education or the perceived future monetary rewards alone.
For example, teachers who are committed to education as an ongoing, lifelong process cannot imagine having chosen another career path solely for the sake of some ephemeral bottom line. However, teachers who enter the profession understand that salaries are paltry compared to professionals in other disciplines. The monetary bottom line simply doesn’t add up. Yet the intrinsic satisfaction of developing lifelong learners in young minds is of far more value than the money paid for the education received or the prospects of earning potential following graduation.
Writing for the New York Times on Feb 15, Catherine Hill, President of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, argues that a student's first job following graduation from college is not necessarily a predictor of future lifetime earnings. Just as important, she writes, is that college offers students a broader intellectual capability to adapt to future changes in a rapidly changing workplace.
Also, the President's College Scorecard doesn't take into consideration those students who will go directly from college to graduate school instead of work or, as we already mentioned, the importance of job satisfaction in a future career.
There are values to a college education that cannot be measured by money alone. The quality of a college education is far more than some consumer ideal that measures value and affordability as primary values of higher education.
How do you feel about this topic? Is President Obama right to measure the value of a college education by value and affordability alone? Are things like intellectual depth and job satisfaction just as important as money in selecting a college? Hit the response button and let us hear from you on this important issue.