As parents, we’ve all seen the headlines and wondered, “Is college really worth it?” And the arguments for why college still matters have become a bit murky in recent years.
After all, some tout that today’s millionaires, or even billionaires, were yesterday’s college dropouts – Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both exited Harvard early and went on to found companies whose products most of us use daily.
Then there’s the news about the towering amount of debt owed by students, now topping a trillion dollars, that’s making some college grads say they’re putting off other milestones because of what they owe.
Pair that with stories that top colleges are becoming more difficult to get into and you may just want to encourage your child to forego a university education altogether.
I know: I’ve read those stories, too. And I’ve wondered myself as a parent of three – including a junior in college and a high school senior who’s still trying to decide where she might want to go next fall.
Still, beyond the statistics that show how a college education positively impacts a student’s financial success – and those could easily fill up a college econ textbook – there’s more to higher education than a higher paycheck.
Here are five less tangible, but equally important, benefits to pursuing higher education – underscoring that, indeed, college still matters.
1. Getting a broader worldview
“We recognize income can be an important motivator for why families pursue higher education,” says Erica Sanders, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan. That said, she adds, “we fundamentally believe the true value of the college experience pertains to expanding your mind, changing the way you see yourself, see others and see the world.”
During their college years, students are exposed to a variety of ideas and different points of view that help them learn to develop their own. For some students, it may be the first time they’ve lived somewhere other than in the town they grew up in.
Universities offer a wealth of experiences aimed at helping students expand their worldview. Along with classroom learning, students might also participate in study abroad, internships and other programs beyond their college campus.
“One of the real benefits of college is that it gives students the opportunity to understand just how big the world is,” says Patrick O’Connor, associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills and a parent of two. “They have the chance to interact with a much larger world.
“That’s true of the things they study in the classroom – and the stories and experiences they have outside the classroom.”
2. Having a chance to explore interests
Universities often have robust general education, or GE, requirements designed to challenge students to learn more about areas outside of their field of study.
For instance, your college kid may decide to make Chinese coursework a bigger part of her studies because of the language requirement to graduate from the university (mine did).
Or your son may veer in a different direction with his studies after finding a passion for earth science, psychology or marketing – all classes he might have to take to fill his GEs.
And for those classes that are within your student’s given major, she can gain a depth of knowledge about the topic. It’s another subtle but powerful reason college still matters.
Granted, this may not translate directly to her career once she leaves college, but in college she has the chance to embrace ideas in a way that may not happen once she enters the job market.
3. Gaining independence
For many, college will be the first time they’ve lived on their own. Students need to learn how to take care of their needs independently.
“It’s the whole idea that you’re the one whose responsibility it is to get yourself to class and to advocate for yourself,” says Holly Markiecki-Bennetts, a school counselor at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills and the president of Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling.
Students develop confidence as they interact with professors, roommates and landlords on their own – whether that’s asking a professor about an assignment or calling the landlord to have someone come fix a leaky bathroom sink.
4. Mastering time management
Hand in hand with independence, students learn how to manage their time during college.
From juggling early-morning classes and multiple assignments to jobs and a social life, college offers a lesson for students in prioritizing their time so that they can get everything done.
They find that sometimes they can do a crash study session until 3 a.m. for a midterm test and score well, whereas other times staying up late leads to a barely decipherable 1,800-word essay.
Mastering – or at least becoming better at – managing all these tasks can help prepare students for life after graduation.
5. Greater peace of mind in a competitive job market
While unemployment rates have been historically low in 2018, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay that way. Here in Michigan, we’re certainly well aware of the twists and turns that the job market can take.
And while having a college degree is no guarantee of a job, there’s a greater likelihood for finding work if your student has a college diploma.
As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, “It’s hard to quantify the full value of an education. But U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data consistently show that, in terms of dollars, education makes sense.”
Along with the skills that come from a students’ studies, colleges offer opportunities for networking.
While many of these are given formally through internships or work study programs, there are also the more informal alumni channels that can help students get their foot in the door with a new-to-them employer.
Although a college education isn’t the key to avoiding all of life’s pitfalls and uncertainties, attending college does offer students advantages that they just can’t find anywhere else.
Bottom line: Yes, college still matters.