National Public Radio broadcast a story two weeks ago, drawing upon a survey conducted by Gallup and Purdue University (See http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/09/11/438876441/making-sure-college-is-worth-the-cost). Conducted on 60,000 college graduates, the study tried to determine if college was worth the cost. The alumni surveyed who did not think college was worth it were mostly recent graduates–those currently paying off their student loans. The former students who felt that college was really worth it were those who were intimately connected with the campus; they worked closely with a faculty member or were involved with a student organization. They did not come to class simply to get a diploma, they developed relationships with fellow students, faculty, and administrators. Whether the alumni went to a private college or to a public university was not deemed to be a factor that affected their perceptions of the cost. The choice of major, however, was significant.
There has been a trend in recent years to evaluate colleges in terms of how successful graduates are at getting good paying jobs. In Georgia, political governing bodies have been pushing for eliminating academic programs with low enrollments, mainly those that focused on the arts. These majors often do not pay as well as engineering, computer sciences, and business degrees. Many people do not see the value of music, fine art, philosophy, English, and theater, since there are few obvious jobs for graduates in these areas. These kinds of courses were once thought to be the core of higher education. Today, these courses are often dismissed as not being practical and are therefore considered to be a waste of money by those who want to reduce everything to dollars and cents.
Granted, college should prepare students for jobs. But, college should do much more than that. College must prepare students for life. College students need to refine their critical thinking skills. Students should learn how to communicate more effectively. Students must learn about themselves, others, the past, and their role in a democracy. College should never simply become a training institute for the job market. Technical colleges serve that function and it is an important one. However, people are not robots for colleges to program for work. Even students who don’t graduate should benefit from having taken college courses. College courses are valuable in their own right. Why? Because they go beyond training. They have the power to transform.
While having good interpersonal communication skills is helpful in the job market, I hope that having taken this course has helped you to understand yourself and others better. If it has helped you figure out what is important in your life and helped you to strengthen your relationships, then the course has value, not just the value of a job it may help you to get and keep. Money is only one of the costs you have paid to take this course. If you have spent time on the material and became engaged in the process of thinking about improving your interpersonal communication skills then you have paid the cost. College is worth it, when you become engaged in the learning process instead of simply doing what you need to do to earn a good grade. I hope this course is worth it for you. Now and in the future.