Harvard president makes the 'Case for College'

Argues payoffs of higher education go beyond financial earnings

As higher education comes under attack for high costs and failure to provide real-world experience, Harvard University President Drew Faust has taken to its defense.

Anxiety about finding a job should not "lead us to neglect the broader purposes of higher education," warns Faust. A liberal arts education provides students with communication skills and an understanding of social and natural sciences that bring value to a range of careers. If students want to be global entrepreneurs, she says, they first need to understand other parts of the world.

In a "Case for College" speech to a Dallas high school students and a similar op-ed in USA Today in October, Faust argues that college is worth so much more than just a degree and higher salary.

Defunding of public institutions in recent years has contributed to the rising cost of higher education, which makes students question if they should attend. "It used to be that three dollars were paid by the states and one dollar by the students. That is now reversed," says Faust. But the cost, she argues, is nevertheless worth it for students.

The simplest advantage of college, says Faust, is that it pays off financially. College graduates can expect to make approximately 60% more over their lives than those who do not earn a degree. They also vote more, volunteer more, and are more likely to own a home. They are healthier and their children are more likely to go to college.

But, she says, there are other benefits that are not so easy to measure:

Students explore places they have never been—literally and figuratively. They will explore new cities and new theories, Faust argues, and "a university course can take you deep into the building blocks of matter, from the tiniest organisms on the planet to the stardust of the outermost cosmos."

Students meet new types of people. Diversity inside and outside of the classroom drives learning at universities, which play host to a variety of viewpoints.

 Students are introduced to new options. College allows students to grow as they explore possible careers; often they end up pursing a job completely different from the path they had chosen in freshman year.

Students learn to slow down. Processing information is not the same as reflecting on it. College requires students to sift through, critically examine, and understand large amount of information on a daily basis—"a vital skill in the workplace, and a vital skill in life."

College, argues Faust, does not just prepare students for their first jobs, but also for life. "It helps anticipate, and perhaps even create, your fourth or fifth job, a job that may not even exist yet" (Faust, "The Case for College," Harvard University, 10/24; Faust, USA Today, 10/23; Carapezza/Noe-Payne, "On Campus," WGBH, 10/27).

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