Is Higher Education Even Worth It?

It is no secret that our great nation is home to many of the world's finest educational institutions. Students from across the globe enroll in our universities with one goal in mind: to obtain a top-quality education and degree which will open the doors to a successful and fulfilling professional career.

In the time I have spent in higher education, I have noticed that educators generally encounter three categories of students. The first category, about 10 percent of the student population will always succeed because they have the attitude that failure is not an option. The second group, another 10 percent of the population, will inevitably fail, lacking the personal motivation and drive necessary to reach educational goals. Approximately 80 percent of students make up category three -- a group full of bright minds that could lean toward either success or failure. The majority of our student population, this group will most significantly be impacted by changes and improvements in education. The differentiating factor in this group is each student's response to the very same question: "Is investing in my education really worth it?"

Some people are deterred from pursuing higher education because of the price tag attached. Even though student loans are often available, the idea of repaying student loan debt, with high interest rates and low job prospects is a significant roadblock for many. For students with young families or those who have never considered post-secondary education, it is often much more appealing to take a job out of high school and immediately generate income. These are the students who begin to feel that an education is simply not worth it.

This answer and attitude might be understandable even as many as three years following graduation, but the key to really understanding and evaluating an education's worth is looking at its value over a lifetime. People who have obtained a college degree will earn an average of 74 percent more over the course of their lifetime than people who have not. A college graduate's educational value is not based on the salary received for their first job. Students must realize the big picture: the most significant returns on educational investment come from the jobs following their first post-college position. Three years will not appropriately gauge how much education is worth; five or more years will offer a much more accurate picture of the actual long-term benefits that accompany education received.

The recent recession is a prime example of the difference that higher education can make in the lives of individuals. During one of the worst economic periods our country has witnessed, unemployment rates have been startling, but what we often overlook is that the unemployment rate for those lacking higher education is significantly higher. While the country's average unemployment rate was more than nine percent, statistics for individuals with a bachelor's degree were significantly lower, around four percent. The numbers speak for themselves. A college graduate's degree provides the power to leverage personal worth and protect themselves during poor economic times, which may be difficult to quantify, but certainly will have long-term benefits for the degree holder and their family.

Education is worth the cost, time and investment if not for anything more than this -- economic destiny is determined through education. Though the economy will shift up and down and external forces will certainly affect individual circumstances, once a degree has been obtained, it can never be taken away. I have been the proud witness to the way that education can change lives. Many first generation college graduates' degrees alter their own attitudes about themselves and their circumstances, and change the way they and their families are viewed by others. These graduates not only have refined skills and expanded opportunities in the job market, but have become a beacon of light for family members and friends who might need extra motivation to change their own circumstances. They change assumptions about education for future generations which changes the economic future.

Education is the only way to break the cycle of generational poverty. It has a much more significant and lasting impact than any other program, gift or hand-out that attempts to impact others. An education gives people an understanding of what they can do for themselves and how they can make needed changes in their lives. Simply giving away money would never teach the skills or principles that come with obtaining an education.

This is the value of education: that it makes lasting changes in the lives of those who seek it. Education changes people's stories, which is critical, because if the details of the story itself never change, neither does the ending. To answer the earlier posed question, is education worth it? Yes! Education is the single greatest catalyst for lasting change on our society. We must commit to obtaining our own, and helping others gain, access to quality education. It is the only way for sustained personal and professional success.

Jayson Boyers is the national division president of The Chef's Academy at Harrison College, located in Morrisville, North Carolina and Indianapolis, Indiana.