First Person: College Is Not Just About Return on Investment

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College is expensive and attending an institution of higher education is a major commitment. I want my kids to attend the right school, but I want them to consider a number of factors. Lists of the best colleges or not new, but I feel like I am seeing a trend towards evaluating schools based on financial expectations such as return on investment. In other words, people are looking at a college in the same way they evaluate a mutual fund. As a parent and an educator, this news impacts how I do my job and how my kids are presented with college criteria. I want my kids to understand that college is more than just return on the tuition investment.

Job training

College is, at least in part, about job training. The challenge with thinking about college as an extended job training course is that many students do not have a particular vocational direction. In addition, many will end up in fields that were not the focus of their major. I know that when I was in college I did not have a particular career in mind. Therefore, I worry about this focus on ROI because it misses some of the other benefits from a college education. It isn't just about the money.

An educated citizenry

I teach college students, and it is a highly enjoyable experience. Obviously I want them to graduate, find meaningful jobs and do well financially. However, I also want them to be thinkers, and people who discover an ongoing love for learning. I want my college students to be mentally equipped for the challenges that may lie ahead for them in an ever-changing world. This may sound rather idealistic, but college is about more than just training for that first job. My students also have to be wise citizens and people who can adapt. If they find a job that makes them happy but doesn't pay as well as the norm, is that a bad thing?

The consumer attitude

Another challenge with these types of lists is that they can encourage a more consumer attitude towards college. In other words, students and parents see colleges just like any other business. They expect colleges to provide a particular educational outcome. This is certainly a reasonable expectation, but students will get out of college what they are willing to put into it. I am willing to invest in a college education for my children, but I do not want them to assume that they will receive a packaged education that requires little effort on their part. Students cannot enroll at a well-regarded institution and assume that learning will be automatic.

Too many factors

I hope that people understand that these lists should be taken with a grain of salt. There are a lot of factors that lead to success in life. It isn't just your particular school. Keep in mind that the type of people that can attend particular institutions are some of the same people who already have an existing network of career support. Does that factor into these types of calculations? Something tells me that there are too many factors to accurately figure out the best return on investment. I will keep saving for college tuition. However, I want my children to understand that college is about getting the best return on time and effort, rather than just tuition.

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