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ROI And The Value Of Higher Education

Are we headed down the wrong path to look at a college degree only in terms of dollars and cents? Should learning be reduced to a focus on its monetary value?
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There has been considerable discussion in higher education these days about "return on investment," or ROI.

Not so long ago, however, the dollar value of a college education would never have been a part of such conversations. It was simply understood -- without explanation or any need for data -- that an undergraduate degree provided the foundation for a life of accomplishment.

Those days are gone, perhaps even long gone, and probably will never reappear in our lifetimes. While there is still general consensus that securing a college degree is a profoundly good thing, prospective students and their families want more proof, more substantive outcomes and data, that make it clear the investment -- involving a cost of $250,000 or more at our nation's most expensive places -- is worthy and will offer a good return.

Are we headed down the wrong path to look at a college degree only in terms of dollars and cents? Should learning be reduced to a focus on its monetary value?

The conversation occurs, admittedly, because the business model of higher education in this country is broken, and with this calamity, the American dream has been slipping away for more and more people. In the process, the importance of education for its own sake, on the one hand, and its monetary value, on the other, are portrayed as antagonistic.

My position, staked out long ago, is that the two are not in competition. And after a long career in higher education, I am even more certain of this. That said, I remain convinced that it is still best to pursue a degree motivated by the desire to live a fulfilling life that is characterized by meaningful work and service.

While it's true that success becomes its own reward and money can't buy happiness, we're still finding that a Centre College education offers both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Yes, private higher education is still a significant investment for our families, but I am proud to have the data to suggest it is well worth it, even if looked at simply from the standpoint of ROI.

The J.D. Powers-like Alumni Factor ranking surveyed over 40,000 alumni across the country and found Centre graduates to be the happiest in the nation. Then they ran the numbers again a year later and came to the same conclusion. The methodology included several factors, financial success being just one of many.

As for outcomes data, an average 95 percent of graduates over the last three years alone have been employed or pursuing advanced degrees within a year. Even more, this success recently earned the College high marks from for, what else, but return on investment. In their first-ever ranking, Centre was ranked #1 in Kentucky among all colleges or universities and #50 in the nation among top liberal arts college, based on an early-career median salary of $40,900 and a mid-career median salary of $87,900.

And while I'm pleased to brag on such success, let me emphasize what makes me even more proud as I congratulate our graduates each May when they receive their diplomas.

Centre graduates are prepared to embark on extraordinary lives of work and service; begin their careers or continue their education; become serious parents and aunts and uncles and, in time, grandparents; be leaders in their communities, states, nation, and the world; leave Centre inspired to go and do good deeds; contribute to the common good in many ways; be successful; and, yes, secure jobs and build meaningful careers.