Is College Worth It? This is the provocative question that Arizona State University President, Dr. Michael Crow, addressed during a recent community conversation. His thoughtful, articulate response is worth considering, especially due to increasing controversy surrounding this topic.
Today, there are thoughtful critics of the status quo who question the value of a college education, from former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, to entrepraneur, Peter Thiel. Films like Ivory Tower and magazines such as Newsweek and Time raise doubt and increase skepticism, thus discouraging an informed consideration of the reality students and families face. While many government leaders and political candidates speak scornfully of the work of colleges, the facts must be evaluated critically. Indeed, the investment in higher education from students, families and the government demands such honesty.
The evidence provided by Dr. Crow is definitive - Yes, College Is Worth It (Listen to his presentation here). He contends, in short, that a college education is not merely a private benefit, but also a public good; thus advocating for increased public investment in higher education.
While Dr. Crow is not the first university president to make this assertion, he may be the first leader of a public institution seeking to fulfill this unique mission.
In October of 2014, President Dr. Drew Faust of Harvard University articulated the personal value of a higher education in her remarks titled, "The Case for College".
Though not as thorough as Dr. Crow's comments, Dr. Faust offered a framework for a thoughtful discussion between students, parents and the faculty/staff who support student success (Listen to her interview here).
Together, these two presentations draw attention to the fact that we must be careful how we frame the question at hand. The value of a college education cannot be quantified by a simple examination of its return on investment (ROI). We must expand the scope and ask: how does a nation, or even a state, increase the capacity of its citizens in order to sustain the quality of life in their communities and compete in a global economy?
At the same time, it is vital that our colleges and universities conduct themselves ever more prudently. Institutions and their leaders must embrace innovation. They must be responsive to critics and strive to operate with greater efficiency and transparency.
It is important to consider this honest discussion led by Dr. Faust and Dr. Crow. Thank you for providing a framework within which we can consider this crucial question of our time. Our own response will likely determine the outcome, not just for students, but for our society and the investors (taxpayers included) who support the unique mission of American higher education.