Higher education is not just about money…it’s about empathy


Rising college costs and a challenging economy are continuing to intensify the debate over whether a college degree is still worth the investment, both in time and money.

Traditionally, a bachelor’s degree was seen as a no-brainer for many students: a ticket to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle that typically came with at most a manageable amount of low-interest student loan debt.

But from 2000 to 2013, the cost of attendance after accounting for financial aid and tax breaks—not the “sticker price” that few students pay—increased by 55 percent for public four-year universities, at a time when the median household income in the U.S. actually declined. At the same time, by 2012 the average student debt at graduation was nearly $30,000, with over 70 percent of students graduating with debt.

The good news is that there is still a strong economic argument for investment in higher education: Bachelor’s degree holders will, on average, earn a full million dollars more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. But I believe that the real value of higher education is more than just money: the best higher-education experiences transform students into citizens who are able to engage with the world around them both critically and empathetically.

(Next page: The harder-to-measure value that higher education brings)

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