Why college?

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerNovember 24, 2013 

For those of us here at Columbus State University, the questions Dimon Kendrick-Holmes raised in his Saturday column were very familiar. Parents all over the country are asking similar questions about the value of a college education, whether it's the right choice for their children, and how to afford it. I can assure you, political and government leaders all over the country are also asking these questions.

Hopefully I can help.

The entire student experience represents critical support for retention, progression and graduation. This starts with best-of-class faculty, delivering challenging courses, either on campus or online and an array of resources, from libraries, honors, study abroad, student recreation, tutorial centers across disciplines, campus life, housing and dining.

Today, the truth is that students and their families are indeed carrying more and more of the financial burden of a college education. But it is not because college has become markedly more expensive over the past few years -- rather, it is because state support has been shrinking so drastically. State support for the University System of Georgia (USG) has dropped from $2.3 billion in FY2009 to about $1.7 billion today. At Columbus State University, our budget from the state has been slashed by more than 40 percent over the past six years. We have had cutbacks, layoffs, etc., but we have protected the academic quality and integrity of our operations, growing our fulltime faculty ranks, because that is the most critical thing we do -- educate our students.

The good news for Georgia residents is that our state has worked hard to keep tuition low, especially in relations to neighboring states. Tuition and fees in the University System are an excellent value for students; among all 16 states of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), Georgia ranks 10th among public universities for FY 2012, 3% below the average across all 16 states. And then let's say -- just for example -- you wanted your child to attend a comprehensive regional university that's ranked among US News & World Report's top 50, and not a more expensive metro Atlanta research university. Your tuition would be even lower, and your degree would likely be from a program that's nationally accredited, meaning it means the same academic standards as any in the country.

Which brings me back to the first question: Why should someone go to college?

We agree that college in indeed not for everyone. People who make this argument like to point out that Bill Gates (whose foundation funds our nationally recognized Degree in 3 Program) left Harvard prior to graduating and still changed the face of technology in the world. But the statistics show that over the next few years, 75 percent of all jobs will require some credential beyond a high school degree, and 90 percent of the fast-growing jobs in this emerging economy will require a post-secondary degree.

But the real answer to the question about why someone should go to college can be found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Population Survey in 2011. It showed a high school graduate in 2011 is estimated to earn $1.5 million over the course of their lifetime. A person with a bachelor's degree will earn over $2.5 million over their lifetime, a difference of roughly $1.1 million. The numbers go up for graduate and professional degrees.

The second question is harder to answer. What is college? In my view, it is different for different students. It is what you make of it. Our recently adopted strategic plan states we want Columbus State University to be a "first choice institution for discerning students who seek challenging programs, engaged faculty, and a vibrant, globally connected campus culture." We are all working to incubate this culture.

That means we want our students to be better educated; to grow intellectually, culturally, globally, socially and in many cases spiritually; to really see and travel and study the world and figure out how they can impact it; to stretch and challenge themselves; to discover opportunities for leadership in and out of the classroom; to learn how to use, and take advantage of, the latest technology; to make lifelong friends; and, yes, to have a little fun.

I applaud you for taking part in this important process with your children. I invite you to visit our campus any time, or take one of our daily tours. Spending time on a college campus is really the best to way to see what it is all about.

Tim Mescon, president, Columbus State University; www.columbusstate.edu.

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