The New York Times Magazine, my favorite Sunday read, is sponsoring an essay contest, asking college students to submit a piece on "College as America used to understand it is coming to an end."
The topic comes from Rick Perlstein, author and historian, who concludes that colleges have lost their central place - in the broader society and in the lives of undergraduates.
Clearly, even The Times Magazine can miss in selecting the most relevant topics.
It seems timelier to ask students to elaborate on what is right about higher education since a record number of them will enroll in America's colleges and universities in 2007-08. The customers are usually right.
Enrollments will reflect another significant increase, attesting to the value of a diploma in competitive times. Tuition and fees will be paid by more than 18 million students who see a brighter future through degree and certificate programs.
Many of their parents have saved for years for this moment of opportunity, wanting the very best for their offspring. Their collective dreams are, and have been, interwoven with the opportunities college offers.
Parents see a chance for social and economic growth, as do their children.
A few unassailable facts make the case for higher education in 2007, including these few:
- Increased levels of education lead to higher earnings for individuals and greater tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments, revenues that can be devoted to the common good;
- The typical individual with a four-year degree earns roughly 62 percent more than a typical employee with a high school diploma;
- A representative baccalaureate recipient today can expect to earn 61 percent more over a 40-year working life than a typical high school grad;
- High school dropouts earn $260,000 less than those who earn diplomas;
- Increasing minority student participation in college to the same percentage as white students would generate an additional $231 billion in GDP, and at least $80 billion more in new tax revenues;
- In the current workplace, only 40 percent of the adults who dropped out of high school are employed, compared to 60 percent who completed high school and 80 percent for those with a bachelor's degree; and
- Employment projections indicate that jobs requiring only a high school diploma will grow by 9 percent, while those requiring a bachelor's degree will grow by 27 percent.
In a nation preoccupied with good health, those who attended college regard themselves as being healthy, clearly healthier than those with less formal education. And in every age group, adults with a higher level of education are more likely to vote.
"Education is front and center today, and I sincerely hope that the presidential candidates are taking note," Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said. "Community college enrollments will likely surpass 8.5 million students in 2007-08, while the traditional four-year institutions see enrollments of more than 8.4 million at the undergraduate level alone."
Graduate and professional programs will easily enroll more students than a year ago.
What these numbers and trends reflect is a clear vote of confidence in higher education, still the envy of the world and the best hope for a better life, socially, economically, and competitively.
One might ask how many members of the editorial department at The Times with college-age students have discouraged sons and daughters from going on and learning from the collegiate experience. Enough said.