Joseph Sheley: Is college worth the cost?

As these shifts occur, the need for a well-rounded education becomes more apparent. A degree in a certain field might be required for entry into the job market, but the broad foundation of the education underlying that degree does much more for much longe

February 15, 2013 

Like you, I am very concerned about the immediate challenges of our economy, the longer view of our region's future and college students' role in both. In the minds of many -- students and their parents foremost -- the state's economic difficulties have raised the stakes regarding the value of a college education.

Is college worth the time and expense for students? Is it worth the investment the state makes in pursuit of a more educated work force?

Obviously, the cost of a degree weighed against income gains after graduation should be considered by students and families. Also critical is a consideration of dollars returned on the state's investment, both in terms of businesses attracted to California and tax revenues from having people in jobs with higher paychecks.

However, to realize the full value of a university degree for the individual and the state, we must look beyond the immediate, job-finding benefits of a degree. Equally important is the advantage it offers in sustaining career options -- not to mention one's personal development and civic engagement -- over an entire lifetime, no matter how the world might change.

In just the past few years, major changes in our economy have forced adaptation and prompted innovation by companies and individuals in most fields. Advancements in technology promise increasingly rapid changes to the jobs of the future.

Every undergraduate degree at California State University, Stanislaus, brings not only a depth of knowledge in a particular subject area but also a broader set of skills, a "general education" in what scholars describe as the "liberal arts."

Graduates learn to think critically and solve problems. They approach challenges with an appreciation of both history and contemporary global forces. They respect cultural differences. They value integrity and make ethical choices. They communicate well and understand the role of technology in a way that allows them to continually adjust to new challenges.

Businesses navigating through rapidly changing currents look for these characteristics in new employees. This is the outcome and growth parents hope for and the broader skill set our students need before they enter the job market -- and need even more as they turn those first jobs into careers.

University education is both a social and individual investment aimed at developing -- rather than simply training -- the next generation of citizens, employees, employers and leaders. It brings immediate returns along with unquestionable long-term advantages. It's not just about getting your foot in the door, but ensuring ongoing stability and development for you and your community.

I could not imagine taking the "general" out of education any more than I could imagine offering the world a CSU, Stanislaus, graduate who is one-dimensional, inflexible and unable to adapt.

I am forever grateful for the very broad education I received years ago at Sacramento State, the benefits of which I did not fully appreciate at the time. The totality of what I learned -- the broader skills, as well as the more focused skills of my major -- shaped my future and set in place the foundation to become the person I am today, with a career I never imagined now within my grasp.

Pursuing a CSU education was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and it would be an even easier decision to make today. For, in these rapidly changing and challenging times, the value of a univer- sity education has never been greater.

Sheley is the interim president of California State University, Stanislaus.

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