Op-Ed: What is a College Degree Worth?

Harvey Kesselman | October 20, 2017 | Opinion
Knowing what we collectively expect from a college education determines how to calculate its value

Harvey Kesselman
Recent national surveys by such reputable organizations as Public Agenda and Pew Research indicate some American citizens are losing confidence in higher education.

The value of college is often measured only by earnings after graduation. This is a serious mistake that threatens our core values and hopes for a prosperous and secure future.

Higher education does lead to better lives and better societies, according to both national and global research.

For example, data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shows that every country among the 15 analyzed does better on virtually every measure of quality of life the more educated their citizens are. More education leads to better nutrition, better healthcare, less crime, and higher wages, leading to a stronger economy.

This does not mean that everyone should to go to college, nor that higher education is responsible for all prosperity. But there is a strong correlation between higher learning, individual achievement, prosperous societies, and contributions to the common good.

New Jersey citizens understand these connections. Research at Stockton University during the past five years indicates that college is highly valued in the Garden State. University presidents like myself, working with citizens, business, labor, government, and community leaders need to engage the issue of college value in a very public way. Knowing what we collectively expect from a college education determines how to calculate its value.

Job training is important for New Jersey’s workforce, but as we have seen over the past decade technological advances make specific jobs extinct every year. The value of a four-year education is to enable an individual to adapt to new workforce and personal situations, as well as to think critically, creatively, ethically, and strategically. A four-year education reaps benefits for a lifetime, not just for the immediate gratification of a paycheck.

At Stockton, we promise to teach our students to adjust to change and live with others in a global society. We want them to leave knowing they can keep learning and compete productively. We hope they will lead successful lives and be good citizens. That is the real measure of the value of their degree. I am fond of saying that my job is to make a Stockton University degree more valuable, every day. I know my colleagues at other New Jersey colleges and universities share that commitment.