Although some graduates will decide to pursue graduate degrees either now or later, for thousands of men and women, this weekend's commencement ceremony at Kansas University will mark the end of their formal education.
In addition to the students who are graduating, there will be thousands of parents and relatives in Memorial Stadium to observe the commencement ceremonies. They have played an integral role in their graduate's education over many years.
It is understandable that this is an extremely emotional time for families, many of whom made major sacrifices to help their sons and daughters achieve their educational dreams.
In many cases, members of this year's KU graduating class will be the first in their families to earn a college degree. In other families, the young man or woman making the traditional march into the stadium may be a third or fourth generation KU graduate.
It costs a lot of money to attend KU - not as much as it would at some other schools, but even so, a lot of money. There is much discussion these days about tuition costs and the current five-year plan that will double tuition at KU.
Those defending these increases are quick to say the university's tuition still is lower than or at the midpoint of the school's peer institutions, that it still is a "best buy" and that price increases apparently haven't affected enrollment, as illustrated by the record number of students on campus in the just-completed school year.
Even so, it costs a lot to go to KU.
The primary reason tuition increases have been imposed is that the state is not paying as much of the overall cost of operating the school as it did in the past. This situation is facing the majority of state-aided universities.
The danger of having the students and their parents pay an ever-increasing tuition is that legislators can easily say, "Why should we appropriate increased funding for the university by raising taxes when we can get the students and parents to pay for what the state should be providing?"
The flip side of the matter is that KU students and their parents apparently realize the importance of a superior educational experience and are willing to pay the higher price tag. How long will this thinking last?
This raises the question of just how good an education KU students receive and whether there is any accurate yardstick to measure the excellence of what KU has to offer.
It is likely those in the academic community have a number of formulas they can use to answer the question, but it would seem there are some obvious measurements: the excellence of the faculty, the dedication of the faculty to challenging students, the quality of the school's libraries (although the Internet has brought drastic changes in this area), the quality of facilities and laboratory equipment, the record of the school's graduates after they begin their careers and the excellence of leadership.
There's also something to be said about what kind of citizens these graduates become in their adult lives. Aside from the standards and expectations they received at home, what kind of values were instilled in them while they were at KU?
Granted, there are some who are exposed to the very best in an academic setting, but there is no guarantee every student will make the most of this opportunity.
Leaders in each state in this nation talk about the importance of education, and figuring out the proper level of funding for education is one of the most challenging questions that the public and lawmakers face today. There is no perfect answer, and there probably isn't any university chancellor or president who claims his or her school is properly funded. In their minds, there never are enough dollars.
Why some schools seem to excel and continue to set high academic standards depends on a number of factors, but the level of leadership, the sense of excitement on campus, the pride among alumni and friends, its reputation among high school placement officers, the excellence of entering students, the level of state and private funding, the vision and expectations of the governing bodies and the enthusiasm and commitment of a school's student body all play a part in determining a superior state-aided university.
Those who are graduating this year, along with their parents, are sure to wonder what's next. Graduates will wonder how they will measure up against the competition they are sure to face. Are they prepared? Both parents and students probably wonder whether the sacrifice made to achieve a degree was worth the price.
KU may or may not score a 100 or even a 90 in every measurement of a truly great state university, but graduates and parents alike can be sure those associated with the school have one goal in mind and that is to do as good a job as they can to provide a stimulating academic environment. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, but KU has a fine record for schooling past generations and its graduates have excelled in many areas.
A lot depends on how much the students themselves have put into their years on Mount Oread. Did they push themselves or did they coast? (Some "coasters," however, compile outstanding career records while some super students fail to measure up to expectations.)
Again, KU is a good school, better than just a "good" school, and parents have every reason to believe their sons and daughters were exposed to a top-flight educational environment.
Chances are, in the years to come, this year's graduates will reflect high credit on the university and the vast majority of parents will look back on their years of support as well worth the effort.
Best wishes to the Class of 2005; please continue a close relationship with the university and come back to Lawrence as often as you can. It's been great to have you as part of the community.