I participated in a panel recently, on the value of a college education. We had some spirited conversations, and each topic was worthy of having its space in the universe, where we could dedicate the appropriate time and energy to explore the topic, in great detail. On this panel, we began the conversation discussing the value of a college education, from an economic standpoint. This particular conversation is as important, as it is multi-faceted. For, can we really put a price tag on how valuable the college experience is for students? Here is just one, often overlooked perspective, on the economic value of a college education.
When I hear, what is the value of college education, I sense others are approaching college as a traditional investment, a bunch of facts and figures, dividends and portfolios, and ultimately, whether there is a return on the investment. But unlike stocks and bonds, the college experience is made up of people – individuals with ever-changing thoughts and values, interests and ideas. So the investment comparison isn’t quite apples-to-apples, because bonds are not living beings with career aspirations, and students are not intangible entities that can be traded for the next hot commodity. But, if we must look at college as an investment, and are thus compelled to determine its value, let’s look at the college experience the way we look at buying a house.
Unlike most other investments, purchasing a house is not strictly a financial or economic decision. There is more to consider than simply can we afford the mortgage. Prospective home buyers will want to consider the school systems and neighborhoods, proximity to work, family, and highways, whether the roof needs replacing, and if there is mold in the walls. Most of all, prospective home buyers will want to take into account, does the house they are considering, feel like home. Not just a place where they will eat and sleep. But does the house feel like home, where they will want to raise kids and have holiday dinners. Does the house have a certain warmth or aura. Within seconds of stepping foot inside the house, does it feel like a place where they want to live. Is that something you can put a price tag on?
When it comes to buying a house, sure finances are important, but they don’t make the entire decision. For the right house, buyers will stretch beyond their means, so they can have the home of their dreams. On the flip side, just because the numbers work out, doesn’t mean the house is for you.
Like prospective home buyers, students should consider the emotional connection to college. That is, is this the school where they can foresee themselves learning and growing. Does the school’s values match their own. Is this the school where they want to be. Sure the price tag is important, but that should come further down the line. A school’s sticker price shouldn’t deter students from applying as there are scholarships, grants, and various forms of financial aid. Students will find that there are people, and companies, willing to invest in their future, thus making the value less financially taxing.
Just like there are houses for different income levels, so too are there colleges to meet different income levels. The conversation about financial aid and scholarship is important, but fit for another discussion. When students find the school of their dreams, instead of berating them with inquiries, asking them to second-guess their decisions, it’d be better to work with them, to create game plans for success, to take advantage of all the resources that school has to offer. There’s no way to put a price tag on students’ potential, and their ability maximize that potential, whether it manifests in the field of nursing, social work, or education. Helping students fulfill their dreams is the real value of a college education.