Benefits of College Experience Are Vast

A few weeks ago, I came upon a radio program where the host and a caller were debating the benefits of pursuing a college degree. The volley of opinions covered the angles of the current debate on the value of education. They expressed thoughts such as: "An education is always worth pursuing...," "But do the costs always offer a good return on investment...," "You must have a degree to compete in today's workforce...," "Many students, though, are graduating with degrees but with limited job prospects, significant debt or both."

Sound familiar? This is precisely the kind of debate I hear more and more, not only as the president of Western International University (West), a part of Apollo Education Group, but also as a parent of kids who will be college bound in the next few years. Given that college can be one of the biggest investments in a person's life, it's no wonder people are debating the merits of a degree.

However, my response continues to be a resounding "Yes...investing in yourself through higher education is worth it."

Why? For starters, a bachelor's degree increases median lifetime earnings by $1 million over a high school diploma; a master's degree by $1.4 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the return extends beyond salary. Every day I see other "returns on investment" that include enhanced interpersonal and problem-solving skills, the development of a support network that will be there in college and beyond, and perhaps most important is the self-worth that comes from achieving an educational goal that will provide benefits for years to come.

Despite the benefits, the current discussion about the value of education can be discouraging with more and more people seeing higher education as unattainable due to cost and accessibility. However new innovations that meet student needs are becoming more prevalent and dispelling the common misconception that a degree is out of reach.

Consider the soon-to-be graduate who is completing a master's degree in Innovative Leadership and, with the help of West's career counseling services, was able to advance her career with a job at the Mayo Clinic. Or the student who was able to complete his bachelor's degree even amid a relocation thanks to the flexibility of the program.

When people make smart choices about higher education, the ROI -- both financial and otherwise -- can be wide ranging.

Ultimately, a healthy, beneficial, robust higher education climate will depend equally on institutions and students. I challenge other colleges and universities to join the movement toward innovative, responsive, and practical approaches to higher education and I hope prospective students will continue to seek out resources to make informed decisions about their higher education needs.