College a sound investment

Aug. 13, 2014 @ 04:55 PM

Eager freshmen, helpful volunteers and top administrators scurrying to answer questions and even tote boxes – the scene on the N. C. Central University campus Wednesday unmistakably telegraphed that the students are back.

The Eagles were the first area students to begin moving into their dorms, to be followed quickly by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Saturday and by their counterparts at Duke University next week.

It is a ritual repeated every fall, comfortable in its familiarity and unique each year with new cohorts of students ready to embark on one of life’s big transitions. They are leaving home, leaving the comfort of friendship groups and routines and starting college life.

Parents helping to ferry vanloads of items both essential and merely important from parking lot to dorm room may muse that today’s generation needs more stuff than theirs did, or certainly their parents before them. But they can also reflect that, for better or for worse, the separation that begins when they head home is far more porous than ever before. Student and parent are but a text message, an e-mail, a cell-phone or Skype call away from one another, pretty much 24/7. Today’s students would be baffled by elders’ descriptions of waiting at a pay phone to make the weekly collect-call home.

This fall, as has increasingly been the case, the school term begins amid sometimes rancorous debate over the value of a college education. Many politicians – including our own Gov. Pat McCrory – question especially the value of a liberal arts education and many in business and government urge a stronger relationship between college courses and workplace skills.

It is a worthwhile debate – but we hasten to note that for whatever flaws some may see in the college curriculum, it overall has been serving those who partake of it very well economically.

As David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times in May, “Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close. For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable.”

Citing an analysis of Labor Department statistics by Washington’s Economic Policy Institute, Leonhardt  noted that “Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree.” That gap has grown steadily – as recently as the early 1980s, the college-educated made only 64 percent more than those without a degree.

That gap is “especially notable,” Leonhardt wrote, because colleges are turning out more and more graduates – and we’ve just endured the Great Recession. The pay advantage for college graduates persists and widens because “we’re still not producing enough of them.”
So, as you our your offspring prepare to hit the college books over the next couple of weeks, be assured that, whatever noise might suggest otherwise, the decision to enroll was in all probability a wise one.