The Value of Higher Education Is…Priceless

The college professor becomes the parent of the college graduate.

Posted Jun 01, 2018

use with permission from Santa Clara University
Source: use with permission from Santa Clara University

I have been a college professor at Santa Clara University for a quarter of a century, and have greatly enjoyed the ritual of sitting on the commencement stage during graduation ceremonies each June. It is an honor to witness the enthusiasm and pride of the graduating seniors and their happy parents as the degrees are awarded, the caps are tossed in the air, and the many tearful yet joyous embraces are offered and received from family and friends. It is always a great pleasure to observe this important moment in the lives of my students and their families and to offer a hearty congratulations and best wishes to all.  I also take great pride in the small role that I have played in their lives as a professor and academic adviser to my graduating students.

Now, I now have the opportunity to sit as a proud parent at commencement ceremonies while my son and only child becomes a college graduate. And this personal moment provides a rich opportunity to reflect on the value of higher education.

Much has been written about the high cost of a college education and the value of it. Additionally, much has been discussed about the value of liberal arts classes and academic majors that aren’t as practical as say, computer science, engineering, or business. Certainly, the remarkable expense of college has gotten completely out of hand. University administrators, families, students, and others are scrambling to find ways to make higher education more affordable and to minimize the overwhelming debt that too many students have to take on. I certainly sympathize with these concerns as both a professor and as a parent.

used with permission from wikicommons
Source: used with permission from wikicommons

However, I have to admit that the value of a college education and that very unique four-year experience, when done correctly and thoughtfully, is priceless. My own son could have attended Santa Clara University (as well as many of the other fine Jesuit universities in the United States) tuition-free since I have been a professor at SCU for many years. It is a generous and valuable perk to the job for sure. But he was recruited by Dartmouth College among others, including my beloved alma mater, Brown University, to run track and these Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic or merit-based scholarships. So, he went to Dartmouth for the sticker price. Gratefully, I started one of those college saving 529 plans when he was born and automatically had money from my paycheck transferred to this tax savings college plan each pay period for 20 years. That was a godsend and ultimately provided for almost all of his college expenses.

As I have watched him negotiate his college years, I have seen him grow and develop in ways that I could not even begin to predict. A rich college environment that is a good fit for the student can result in such remarkable growth and development that one can only witness it with breathtaking awe. And when done well, this development occurs on many levels. 

use with permission from Thomas Plante
Source: use with permission from Thomas Plante

So, while I sit at my next college graduation ceremony this June, not as a professor but as a parent, I will watch in breathless awe as my own son graduates and will surely conclude that every dime spent was worthwhile regardless of his next steps in life.  Then I will do the same a week later as a professor watching many of my students as they cross the stage in cap and gown. College and higher education can be, if completed with careful consideration, uniquely transformative. It was for me and it is clearly has been for my son.  And it has been for many of my Santa Clara students as well. The expense is of serious concern for sure but the benefits are lifelong and are indeed priceless. 

So, what do you think?

What has or does higher education mean to you?

Copyright 2018, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP