What is a college education worth?
It’s an often-asked question that implies a simple, quantitative – even monetary – answer. And while it’s easy to respond to this question in that way, especially given the unquestioned rising cost of going to college, such an answer belies the true opportunities that a college education offers to those truly willing and able to embrace the experience.
First, the easy answer. As study after study has shown those with a college degree earn higher wages – about $1 million more over their working lives. Nationally, the median salary for those with a bachelor’s degree is around $45,000, while those with a high school diploma earn about $28,000. The calculation is pretty simple when done this way. But it misses, I think, the real value of the college experience.
Being able to go to college, or attending a specific university, or even choosing a major in college is about more than getting a job. It’s about seeking out every opportunity, both inside and outside of the classroom, to learn about yourself, your peers, your community and your world. It’s about engaging with the issues of the day, gaining the confidence to understand what you can contribute to any effort and learning as much from your classmates as you do from your professor.
Certainly, learning a trade and getting a job is very valuable. Learning to build upon those hard skills by establishing collaborative relationships, effectively communicating your ideas, actively solving problems and thinking critically is invaluable. Those are the soft skills, insights and flexible competencies that will apply to a lifetime of work and citizenship, no matter what profession you pursue.
Everyone capable of succeeding in college should be given that opportunity. But for many, the ability to focus on their education in this way – to get the most value from it possible – is a luxury they just cannot afford. Many work or borrow money just to make ends meet while going to school. Time not spent in class or studying is often spent making a living or raising a family.
That’s why building private support for student scholarships is Boise State’s greatest need and top philanthropic priority. Scholarships allow students to focus on gaining the most from their Boise State experience. Rather than worrying about job to a pay the bills, well-supported students can spend their time studying, working at internships, conducting undergraduate research or volunteering on campus or in the community. They engage with peers and learn more deeply from faculty mentors. They find a much deeper satisfaction from their Boise State experience.
So what is a college education worth? It’s worth whatever someone can or is willing to put into it. The boundaries of learning stretch far beyond the curriculum of one’s chosen major. And if the lessons are learned right, they continue long after one’s degree is earned.
Laura C. Simic is vice president for advancement at Boise State University.