Many people often ask me if getting a college degree really matters. Of course, as a university president, it should be no surprise that I always answer, “Yes!” Ten years ago, no one would have questioned that answer. In today’s world, with the increasing question of student debt and the “financial aid bubble,” more and more people are beginning to wonder if my answer is still the same. I continue to answer, “Yes!”
Because despite the rising cost of education, the cost of uneducation is far greater. Here are six reasons, ranging from the practical to the spiritual, why a college degree still really matters.
1. FIRST, THE HIGHER WAGE OF A COLLEGE GRADUATE EXCEEDS THE COST OF THEIR DEGREE.
Many people were concerned when they heard college debt had risen to $30,000. The truth is, average college debt is $28,400 which is only 2 percent more than the previous year. This is normal. This is college debt keeping pace with economic inflation.
Now compare this with the income of a college graduate. A person who graduates with an undergraduate degree earns an average of $22,500 more per year than someone with only a high school diploma. A college graduate is also more likely to have a job. The unemployment rate for college graduates is 3.5 percent compared to the national average of 5.0 percent (for those with only a high school diploma, the rate is 6.0 percent). So from a very practical standpoint, a college degreereally matters.
Now, you have to be smart about college. The field of study in your university career will position you differently to earn at a certain level. In other words, degrees have different values – but earning a degree still makes you more employable than forgoing a college education.
Why? Because of my second point.
2. A COLLEGE EDUCATION DEVELOPS THE SKILLSETS OF A PERSON.
Just by having a college degree, employers assume you have certain skills and experiences that others don’t. Every college graduate is taught and trained to have excellent written and verbal communication skills. In writing, you are trained to have effective grammar, voice and content for informative, creative and business writing. How you write significantly affects how you speak. Grammar develops the pace of your message, and voice feeds into your tone. So in college, you also are specifically coached to be an effective communicator in speeches, presentations, or just daily chatter.
In addition, college is probably best known for cultivating critical thinking skills. What are “critical thinking skills” exactly? They’re often described as problem-solving skills, but the best way to explain them is through an example. Take the discussion on college debt from earlier. The news announces that college debt is at an all-time high. A critical-thinker examines why. What’s causing it to grow? How much is it increasing? What does this trend mean? You see, critical thinking trains your mind to perceive the facets of a problem and reach an accurate, more effective conclusion. From your introduction to the university class to your senior capstone, every course you take will constantly hone your critical thinking skills.
3. COLLEGE IS ALSO A TIME TO EXPERIENCE THE WORLD BEYOND WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS KNOWN.
The world is getting smaller all of the time. In many ways, this is a great opportunity because it allows you to experience the cultures around the globe with more ease than any other time in history. This also means there is a greater expectation for world-experience and greater competition. An employer knows their business will probably deal with customers or clients from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. So they need their employees to have some level of exposure to different cultures, experience in intercultural communication and an understanding and respect of cultural differences. Also, for many corporations, your job competitors can just as easily be from Europe or Asia as your hometown.
College will facilitate exposure and experience to other cultures. Almost every college in the nation has a high degree of diversity on its campus. So when you’re presenting on a paper, not only will you hear the opinions of your peers, but also the perspectives of different cultures. What do the Polish think of capitalism as an economic system? How is democracy perceived by Ugandans? How does the idea of honor function in Brazilian culture? These are just a few of the vast number of multi-cultural elements you will be exposed to just through the college experience.
Now, all of these arguments so far for a college education are relevant regardless of your faith. However, there are a few reasons I believe it is especially important for Christ-followers to earn a college degree, particularly at a Christ-centered university.
WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LEADERS IN THIS WORLD. WE ARE CALLED TO BE “THE SALT OF THE EARTH” AND “A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS.”
4. WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LEADERS IN THIS WORLD.
We are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “a light in the darkness.” Only 7 percent of the world’s population has a college education. Not only does a degree automatically make you part of that 7 percent, but the information, experiences and critical thinking skills it develops empower you to be an effective leader.
5. COLLEGE EXPOSES YOU TO THE PERSPECTIVES OF THOSE OUTSIDE THE FAITH.
Yes, even at a Christ-centered college you will be exposed to other religions and even atheism. While this may concern some people, I view it as an excellent opportunity. I believe Christianity is the most powerful force on earth. The more you observe other religions, the greater love and appreciation you have for God and His willingness to sacrifice His own Son for us.
6. LASTLY, AS CHRIST-FOLLOWERS, WE ARE CALLED TO CONTINUALLY GROW AND INVEST.
It’s like Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. The servants who were given two talents or five talents bothinvested those talents and were praised as faithful stewards. The servant who had one and hid his talent was chastised. Jesus was very clear in His message. You and I have been given talents, not least of which is our mind. We are commanded to train our mind and invest it into the community of Christ for the glory of God. So if you ask me if a college education really still matters, I will emphatically respond, “Yes!”
Kent Ingle is the president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He is the author of This Adventure Called Life (Influence Resources) and 9 Disciplines of Enduring Leadership (Salubris Resources). Learn more at kentingle.com.