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College has many benefits; look beyond sticker price

Saturday, November 21, 2009  
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By Robert L. Head
SPECIAL TO RRSTAR.COM
Posted Nov 21, 2009 @ 03:55 PM


In difficult economic times, we carefully weigh the value of a product or service before we buy. As is the case with any substantial investment, the cost of college is something prospective students need to carefully consider. The expense often prompts people to ask: “Is it worth the cost?” Prudent consumers want to know what they will receive for their investment. When considering private institutions such as Rockford College, the question of affordability is also on their minds. 

First, let’s consider the affordability question. I submit that the basic issues are value and cost, not price. Most Rockford College students receive some form of financial aid such as academic scholarships, scholarships that reward achievements in specific academic disciplines, and scholarships for leadership and service. Many are also awarded state and federal grants, hold part-time jobs, or receive subsidized student loans. In view of the full range of options available, a high-quality education at a private institution that is grounded in the liberal arts becomes more accessible and affordable.

Every college, Rockford College included, publishes the price of its tuition, fees and ancillary costs. However, a student must apply for admission to find out the real cost, which is determined on the basis of financial aid for which a student qualifies.

Unfortunately, many students who could benefit from an outstanding education at a private college never know how affordable that institution could be because they never investigate the options.

There is ample evidence to suggest that private colleges are more affordable in the long term because they disburse more institutional aid ($9,300 compared with $3,600 for public four-year schools) and because private college students tend to graduate in four years, eliminating the need for tuition for an extra semester or year. 

There is no question that a college education will pay dividends later on in life. A college degree is a requirement for many high-paying jobs in our new economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over an adult’s working life, a high school diploma would earn an average of $1.2 million while a bachelor’s degree would earn about $2.1 million.

A master’s degree or above increases the potential earnings of the average worker exponentially. From this perspective, a college experience appears to be a sound investment.

Reviewing the value of a college degree purely from an economic perspective provides an incomplete picture. In fact, it fails to capture that which an institution of higher education is charged to do. The complete picture of attending college is not merely a means to an immediate economic end, but serves to prepare one for lifelong learning and a high quality of life.

I am fond of telling students that their four years of study at Rockford College will be the only time in their lives when they can completely concentrate on developing their minds, their goals and their full being. Students are challenged academically and are able to grow intellectually.

They will be inundated with opportunities to become culturally and socially aware through the arts, civic engagement, and through interaction with their peers.

On this point, research from the Institute for Higher Education Policy suggests that college provides other value-added benefits such as increased personal and professional mobility, stronger social support networks, and greater leadership skills. There are second-order benefits for society as well, since college graduates are more likely to vote, participate in the political process and volunteer in community organizations.

Despite these benefits, many of our fellow Rockford-area residents eschew the pursuit of a college degree. As has been widely reported, the Census Bureau notes that only 19 percent of area residents 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree compared with the statewide average of 28.9 percent. Clearly, a personal investment in higher education is critical if we are to compete in the new global and technological economy. It has been said that education is the foundation of a democratic society.

I fully concur. Education grants us the greatest opportunity for improving the economic and quality-of-life measures in the Rockford area. 

Dr. Jules Gleicher, one of our very talented professors, states: “Half the job descriptions that will exist in 10 years have not yet been invented. A higher education that trains the mind in analytical skills and critical thinking helps to create a more agile, adaptable work force.” Dr. Gleicher captures the essence of a higher education. It seeks to prepare us to continually make necessary changes within our communities and ourselves.

Yes, college is a sound investment. Apart from the specific content and skills that students acquire, there are a myriad of benefits that accrue. A college education has never been more important; it is an investment in the future — for individuals and for our community.

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/opinions/columnists/x1682933425/College-has-many-benefits-look-beyond-sticker-price on November 21, 2009.


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