Now and forever, the most important investment

The start of a fresh new year and the beginning of the William Woods Spring 2018 semester have excitement and optimism written all over them. Of course, our mission of preparing young people for their future careers within the vitality of a college campus lend themselves to optimism and excitement. This environment is what prompted so many of us to choose careers in higher learning.

I must say, however, that one cannot ignore some proverbial storm clouds on the sunny higher education horizon.

For some time I, along with many others, have been taking note of a troubling disconnect about the value of higher education in our nation and society. Just last fall, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found that a growing number of Americans were losing faith in a college degree, with majorities of young adults, men and rural residents saying college wasn’t worth the cost: (https://www.wsj.com/articles/americans-losing-faith-in-college-degrees-poll-finds-1504776601)  Other major news outlets in recent years such as Time magazine have reported on recent trends in higher education, including increases in student debt or declines in job placement rates that have focused on the extreme instead of the typical.

I can remember a time not long ago when a college degree was absolutely coveted by all. College was unquestionably seen as the new frontier, or crucial gateway, that made everything possible. It was the secret to prosperity in life. Now some people seem to think of college as a means to drown in debt, and that a college degree is not necessary.

This is mystifying, alarming and simply not true, because by any measure, a college education is still valuable. Studies consistently show that those with a college degree earn about $1.6 million more in their lifetime than those without a college degree. Unemployment rates for college graduates are less than half compared to those who didn’t go to college. And projections show that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the U.S. will require training beyond high school and 35% of jobs will require at minimum a bachelor’s degree (https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/recovery-job-growth-and-education-requirements-through-2020/).

Furthermore, studies have also shown that people with college educations live longer, more healthy lives. A heartbreaking story in the Chronicle of Higher Education just last week featured the town of Kennett in Missouri’s Bootheel to illustrate how a lack of college education has become a public health crisis: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/public-health.

And yes, the cost of a college education is not insignificant. But more costly is not making the investment in a better life that comes with earning that degree. And by the way, we are keenly aware of the challenge of paying for college, which is why more than 90 percent of William Woods University students receive some form of financial aid, with the average financial aid package for our students coming in at $17,616.

So yes, individuals with college degrees live more prosperous, healthy lives. I would add that as a society, we are also made better by an educated population. Our culture is more vibrant. Our economy is stronger. The quality of life in our communities, state and nation is simply better.

As we begin our bright new semester at The Woods, let’s always remember this fundamental fact: Higher Education is the path to success for our state’s and nation’s young people, and investing in Higher Education will always be the wisest choice for our society.

Happy New Year everyone!

Dr. Jahnae Barnett