Arthur F. Kirk Jr.: College a good investment for students and society

If Dr. Marc Yacht’s recent commentary were a paper written in a senior undergraduate course at Saint Leo University, it would not get a very good grade. The essay draws unfounded conclusions after playing loose with some facts, ignoring other important facts and falsely arguing that our sole purpose in higher education is to prepare graduates for immediate post-graduation employment. As Paul Harvey used to say in his nationally syndicated radio shows: “Now for the rest of the story.”

The financial premium for a college graduate with a B.A. today is over $1,000,000 more in lifetime earnings than for someone with just a high school diploma. That premium continues to grow. It also grows higher than for those with some college and no degree and those with an associate degree.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce 2015 Report documents the wage premium grew from 78 percent to 83 percent for the most recent college graduates. A debt of $28,400 – the national average for the 69 percent of college graduates who borrowed money to complete their degrees (Institute for College Access and Success, 11/14) – returns far, far more than any other investment one could make.

When one looks at unemployment rates, bachelor’s degree holders fare even better. Unemployment for holders of B.A. degrees is a mere 2.7 percent compared to 5.1 percent for those with a high school diploma. A February 2015 report headline read “Pretty Soon the U.S. Might Run Out of College-Educated Workers.” Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, wrote to his clients: “these educated workers are the most productive in our information economy and at some point in the coming year, we’re going to risk running out of new, productive people to employ … that comment would have been unthinkable just 12 or 18 months ago.”

Bloomberg noted the obvious in the article: “That has good implications for the wages for those (bachelor’s degree holding) workers.” A Yahoo finance report (Newman 2/6/15) noted: “The demand for college graduates in a variety of professions has become so strong that some analysts worry about an imminent labor shortage.”

According to 21 years of census data, only individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher had an increase in income from 1991 to 2012. And at every age, holders of bachelor’s degrees are more likely to vote in national elections (U.S. Census Bureau).

Perhaps more disappointing, considering that Dr. Yacht is a former public health official and journalist, was his evident lack of awareness of the considerable civic and public health benefits associated with a college degree.

Health Day reported that “those who graduated high school but didn’t go to college were nearly twice as likely to be in less than very good health as college graduates.” Further, Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids documents that 70 percent of the children born to high school graduates grow up in single parent households with dire consequences in many cases, but only 10 percent of college graduates are raising children alone.

David Brooks writing in the New York Times recently (3/10/15) noted:

“The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.” College graduates improve every measure of societal health.

At Saint Leo University we model and educate based on six core values: community, respect, responsible stewardship, personal development, excellence and integrity. We defined our values as behavioral expectations. Every course in our curriculum treats at least one of these values in a very intentional way. We emphasize the teaching of critical thinking skills to apply our core values to make better decisions in life. Every employee and student knows them and in a short time starts practicing them habitually. We hire (and fire) based on them. Our student code of conduct is based on them. These form our code and rules.

Yes, we prepare many of our graduates for a pretty specific first career or job: accounting, computer programming, teaching, social work, communications, logistics, etc. We are the largest Catholic university School of Business in the country, and we have nationally lauded programs in criminal justice, social work and education. But, we teach all of our students to think critically and creatively; to speak, present, and write clearly and persuasively; to compute and solve problems; and to be engaged, ethical citizens. Our graduates are not just ready for that first job; they also ready to master the next one, which doesn’t even exist today. They are prepared for life in all of its manifestations. They are prepared with a moral vision to serve God, country and community. They will do well and do good.

So the rest of the story: A college degree is a great investment for a student and all of society.

Arthur F. Kirk Jr. is president of Saint Leo University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Guest Author

One comment

  • Bubba

    March 27, 2015 at 6:39 am

    I work at Saint Leo. The core values are BS that are not practiced by the administration and by their QUality Enhancemant Plan of integrating core values into coursework they have ruined the courses. Don’t be fooled by this narcissist outgoing president.

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