The cost of education is rising, but so is the payback

In today’s economy, many Americans are finding it difficult to justify pursuing a traditional four-year degree after high school. Constantly rising tuition and other college costs, combined with limited economic opportunity post-graduation, have led many people to second-guess whether or not college is really worth it anymore. Times are tough — no doubt about it. And a degree doesn’t seem to be the passport to success it once was. On Sept. 5, The Wall Street Journal reported that 25 percent of college graduates are working jobs that do not require a college degree. But it’s worth taking a step back and looking at higher education as more than a paycheck, even if it still does, for the most part, promise greater financial reward over time if not immediately. The benefit of a college education in terms of well-being and quality of life for individuals is very different from and well beyond financial reward.

When asked what the purpose of attending college is, many young people may say something about qualifying for a career that earns more money than those that require only high school diplomas or even less education. And while this is one perk of having a degree, it shouldn’t be the defining factor in deciding the worth of a college education. What higher education really means is the betterment of life, and not just financially.

William Deresiewicz, American author, essayist and critic, argues in his new book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, that the process of moving from adolescence to adulthood should be composed of “introspection, observation, connecting the head and the heart, making meaning of experience and finding an organizing purpose” in order to “build a unique individual self,” according to The New York Times. He goes on to explain that this process often begins in college, which is an “interval of freedom when a person is away from both family and career.” In this phase, people learn more rapidly than ever before through interactions with others from various cultural, political, financial, religious and educational backgrounds. The college environment can expand a person’s realm of experience, creating an excitement to learn and explore which will later lead to a life of curiosity and enrichment.

Stephen Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, describes college as a place where young people acquire knowledge and learn to think. A college education allows for deeper understandings that could ultimately affect for the better the way people think about the world and behave. Higher education means more informed and personally in-touch decision-making, which ultimately leads to an enhanced life experience.

We all need to meet our financial obligations, but taking the time and money to get away from home, postpone a career and attend a university will provide for the opportunity of an enhanced quality of life that otherwise would be missed. And when it comes time to select and begin a lifelong career, college grads will face a future of minimal regret and optimal satisfaction.

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