Is college worth the big bucks?

What is the return on investment from the university experience? What do mom, dad and student get for the thousands of dollars they spend? It depends on what you are looking for.

There is, of course, the parchment certificate that places a person in a pool of candidates with improved odds of surviving the screening process during a job search. One would hope that the time and money spent was more than an expensive entrance fee, yet there are those who see college as little more than some letters after a name; for them any institution is adequate.

There is, of course, the opportunity to amass a body of knowledge, develop a set of skills. Certain professions require such a foundation, so the college investment is returned in some combination of job satisfaction and hopefully a higher level of income – a much better return than a costly piece of parchment. The counterbalancing risk is demonstrated in the high percentage of adults who are successful in fields outside of their degree due to changes in interest and economics.

What, then, is most important for long-term success, and does college provide it? Quoting Louis Tetu, former CEO of Taleo Corporation, a software company with a current market cap of $1.6 billion, growing at 20 percent per year, Kaihan Krippendorff writes in Fast Company magazine,

  • In the old world, what mattered was the information you stored in your head. Our academic grades were based on whether we could accurately regurgitate in an exam what we were told in class. But today, with knowledge universally and instantaneously accessible, your ability to remember facts gives you no advantage over the person sitting in the next cubicle.
  • What matters is your “ability to bridge the gap between your current knowledge and knowledge needed to take action.” In other words, when you face a problem at work, how quickly and efficiently can you find and use the knowledge you need to solve it?

Ultimately and ideally, the college experience should equip a person for success in the real world that Krippendorff writes about. Academically, it is the ability to think, analyze, research, and find solutions; skills that can be learned through life experience, but that can be honed to a higher degree in the right university environment. Any college can issue a degree, but one must be more discerning in the institution when thinking and problem solving are critical.

Success and satisfaction in life require a metamorphosis from high-school living with parents into independence and maturing social skills. College life and activities provide an opportunity and arena for such development. These life skills, matched with thinking skills, enhanced by a depth of understanding that comes from exposure to literature, science, history, psychology, economics, art, music … is a powerful preparation for the opportunities that today’s young student will face. That is a positive return on investment – possibly invaluable.

Terry Christopherson
Parent Council Member