The Priceless Power of Higher Education
Thomas G. Plante
I have been a college professor at Santa Clara University for a quarter of a century and have greatly enjoyed the ritual of sitting on the commencement stage during graduation ceremonies each June. It is an honor to witness the enthusiasm and pride of the graduating seniors and their happy parents as the degrees are awarded, the caps are tossed in the air, and the many tearful yet joyous embraces are offered and received from family and friends. It is always a great pleasure to observe this important moment in the lives of my students and their families and to offer a hearty congratulations and best wishes to all. I also take great pride in the small role that I have played in their lives as a professor and academic adviser to my graduating students.
This year, I’m sitting on the other side of the stage, in the crowd with other proud parents, as my son and only child graduates from college. This personal moment provides a rich opportunity to reflect on the value of higher education.
Much has been written about the high cost of a college education and the value of it. Additionally, much has been discussed about the value of liberal arts classes and academic majors that aren’t as practical as, say, computer science, engineering, or business. Certainly, the remarkable expense of college has gotten completely out of hand. University administrators, families, students, and others are scrambling to find ways to make higher education more affordable and to minimize the overwhelming debt that too many students have to take on. I certainly sympathize with these concerns as both a professor and as a parent.
the value of a college education and that unique four-year experience, when done correctly and thoughtfully, is priceless
However, I have to admit that the value of a college education and that unique four-year experience, when done correctly and thoughtfully, is priceless. My own son could have attended Santa Clara University (as well as many of the other fine Jesuit universities in the United States) tuition-free since I have been a professor at SCU for many years. It is a generous and valuable perk to the job for sure. But he was recruited by Dartmouth College among others, including my beloved alma mater, Brown University, to run track and these Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic or merit-based scholarships. So, he went to Dartmouth for the sticker price. Gratefully, I started one of those 529 college saving plans when he was born and automatically had money from my paycheck transferred to this tax savings college plan each pay period for 20 years. That was a godsend and ultimately provided for almost all of his college expenses.
A rich college environment that is a good fit for the student can result in such remarkable growth and development that one can only witness it with amazement
As I have watched him navigate his college years, I have seen him grow and develop in ways that I could not even begin to predict. A rich college environment that is a good fit for the student can result in such remarkable growth and development that one can only witness it with amazement. And, when done well, this development occurs on many levels.
So, while I sit at my next college graduation ceremony this June, not as a professor but as a parent, I will watch in breathless awe as my own son graduates and will surely conclude that every dime spent was worthwhile. Then I will do the same a week later as a professor watching many of my students as they cross the stage in their caps and gowns. College and higher education can be, if completed with careful consideration, uniquely transformative. It was for me and it clearly has been for my son as I see how much he’s grown and developed as an individual. I’ve seen this transformative power each and every year as my SCU students prepare to walk across that stage and enter the next phase of their lives. The expense is of serious concern for sure but the benefits are lifelong and are indeed priceless.
So, what do you think?
What has or does higher education mean to you?
*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on June 1, 2018.