8/24/2011 10:19 PM
The Value of a College Education
By Rae Helton
As the first college graduate in my family, I understand the value of a college education. I chose to go to college because of the encouragement I received from caring teachers and librarians, but most importantly, there were examples in my home that had the biggest impact on my view of education. My father was an avid reader: after long days at work he would read books and newspapers and discuss them with me. As I grew older, we read together.
I was also influenced by exposure to several Historically Black Colleges and Universities located within driving distance of my home in North Carolina. Spirited marching bands participated in parades, while faculty members held important roles in churches and community organizations. During that time, my hometown had limited economic growth opportunities for African Americans, but it had a strong college-going culture. What I witnessed in my community and in my home instilled in me a love of learning that taught me the value of education and where it can lead.
In today’s challenging economy, the value of a college education is often questioned. Some may wonder why they should invest in a college education if there is the possibility of working in a job that doesn’t pay enough to cover college loan repayment. Others wonder why they should go to college if there is no guarantee of a job. More people are asking whether a college education is worth it. My response is an affirming “Yes!”. I believe the true value of a college education is measured far beyond a paycheck.
From a personal gain perspective, a college education creates lifelong learners. Mike Rose, UCLA professor and author of Why School?, cites the idea of intellectual growth: “not just learning things to make a living, but also learning things to enable you to do things with your life, to enable you to find interests and pursuits that may in some way or another expand the way we see things.” Completing college level assignments and conducting research teaches critical thinking and problem solving skills. Group projects teach collaboration, planning and negotiation. These skills are as valuable in life as they are in the workplace.
Additional benefits of a college degree are empowerment and perseverance. The ability to persevere through the rigors of college provides personal benefits that cannot be measured through money alone. Earning a college degree provides the satisfaction of knowing you took the steps to better educate yourself and increase your opportunities in life.
A college education also exposes students to diversity. Colleges bring together people of all races, cultures, and beliefs. Through experiences and dialogue, colleges help prepare students to work in a diverse world. Society values individuals who are able to interact and communicate with people who are unlike them and who respect differing perspectives. Colleges also provide experiences and opportunities to interact across social, racial and cultural boundaries.
The value that diversity provides can be overshadowed by achievement gaps that exist in most cities. The 2011 Competitive City Report released by the Greater Louisville Project showed that 39% of young women ages 25-34 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The trend suggests that young women are likely to reach the community goal of 40% in the next few years. However, young men lag behind, with only 33% holding a degree. And educational attainment for African Americans in Greater Louisville is distressing. Only 14% of Louisville’s working age African Americans have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The data ranks Louisville as tied for last among her peer cities. So, while the gains are notable in some areas, there is still much work to do if we are to achieve our community goal of 55,000 additional college degrees by 2020.
African-American community, faith and business leaders reacted by claiming the statistic as a call to action. A goal of 15,000 degrees was established for Louisville’s African-American community as part of 55,000 Degrees, the Greater Louisville Education Commitment. The 15K Degrees Initiative (15K) is a grassroots effort to mobilize Louisville’s African-American community in support of achieving the 55,000 Degrees goal.
I am passionate about my work with15K because we are working to create the expectation of "college-going" and reducing the barriers that prevent some students and adults from pursuing a college education. Over 150 years ago Frederick Douglas stated, “Education is power”. Today more than ever, education is the path to not only economic gain, but also personal achievement, enrichment and most importantly, lifelong learning.
Rae Helton is CEO of Spatial Data Integrations, a geographic information services firm. Rae also has an adjunct role at the University of Louisville as Special Assistant for Educational Attainment in the Office of Community Engagement. Rae coordinates the 15K Degrees Initiative, and holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music Education from North Carolina Central University.
1 comments so far...
By Liz on
8/25/2011 10:04 AM
Re: The Value of a College Education
Your blog entry makes many good, and very timely, points. I am concerned by recent articles and news stories questioning the value of a college education on the basis of economics alone. And while debate about this topic is valuable, it is imperative that we continue to speak up about the non-financial returns of a college education, so that young people don't undervalue, and therefore not pursue, this critical investment in their future.