What is the price of not going to college?

February 24, 2011


A quality education inspires a passion for learning that forms the bedrock of a prosperous and healthy society. Every student deserves an opportunity to build a better future. As president of Kansas’ first university, I am most concerned that reducing federal financial aid for low-income students will limit those dreams. If we do not safeguard the resources used to help individuals with the most need, the impact will deeply affect our nation’s intellectual and social capital. While I sympathize with the difficult task Congress faces of balancing the budget to bring down the deficit, I also believe it is imperative that we weigh the impact of cuts limiting access for students who wish to further their education.

The ongoing debate about the relative value of higher education continues. Is the investment worth it? Are hard skills more important than a well-rounded education? Will a college degree prepare graduates for 21st century jobs? These questions are understandable given the challenges of our economic recovery. However, the most pressing debate before us should be whether we can afford not to give every student a chance to fulfill the American vision.

A recent study by the CollegeBoard Advisory and Policy Center confirms the benefits of a higher education:

• Individuals with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely to be employed. Their median after-tax earnings were 16 percent higher.

• Federal, state and local governments enjoy increased tax revenues from college graduates and spend less on income support programs for them.

• College education leads to healthier lifestyles, reducing health care costs for individuals and for society.

• Adults with higher levels of education are more active citizens.

• College-educated parents engage in more educational activities with their children, who are better prepared for school than other children.

By 2018, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the work force forecasts we will need 22 million new people with college degrees and at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates. From 1973 to 2008, the United States saw a 30 percent increase in jobs requiring a postsecondary education.

Over the past few years, public and private institutions have worked to keep tuition increases to a minimum, reduced spending and adopted innovative business strategies in order to protect their primary academic mission. Colleges and universities serve as the economic, cultural and social drivers for their regions while local economies rely on a robust and diverse student population to enrich the financial health of their communities. Fewer overall students will have far-reaching effects not only to our colleges and universities but also on our cities and towns.

What is at stake for our nation? Pell, SEOG and LEAP are more than just financial aid acronyms for low-income students. They form a crucial network of grants and low-interest loans funded from federal, state and postsecondary institutions and put a college degree within reach for some of our most deserving and promising future leaders. Proposals in Congress would reduce the Pell grant by 15 percent and eliminate SEOG, LEAP and additional programs like the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which provide supplementary government-backed loans as a reasonable alternative.

The loss of any avenue of support could well mean the end of many college careers. The high rate of unemployment today has many families struggling to close the gap on financing an education. The Federal Advisory Committee on Student Assistance released findings that point to the decline in financial aid as a leading cause for reduced enrollments and waning graduation rates for low-income students. At Baker alone, this change could impact the ability of one out of every four students to complete a degree. With record shortages anticipated in the nursing and teaching fields, it is crucial that we provide the necessary means for student success. The strength of our nation will be determined by an educated workforce ready to harness the power of innovation and compete in the global economy.

The value of a lifelong passion for learning cannot be measured. At Baker University, we say education is personal. It certainly has been for me and for many of the students I have had the opportunity to know. Although my parents did not attend college, they understood the importance of an education and its ability to change the lives of generations to come. They made sure my sisters and I had those opportunities. By writing about this issue today, I am asking all of us to consider the greater cost to society if many of our citizens lose the opportunity to increase their knowledge and contribute to our world.


Betty Bartholomew 7 years, 2 months ago

Without Pell, SEOG, and LEAP, there's no way we could continue to keep my husband in school. If he'd be happy working food service or retail for the rest of his life, it wouldn't matter, but he wants a job that pays better and has better benefits, and that makes him feel like he's truly contributing to our family's well-being.

Government needs to look at curbing their wasteful spending habits before proposing cuts to programs that help people get to a better place in life. (Of course, if you educate the masses, the elite find it harder to hold onto power.)

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

I commented on this from a purely financial standpoint in a blog last week. See. http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal-opposition/

The points made here by the author are IMHO very valid and part of any decision process that a prospective student and their family should undertake.

There is another dimension that should be considered. Just what is the role of the leadership of our higher education establishment? Are the neutral observers trying to advise our potential students with a broad perspective? Are they advocates for the arena that provides their income, perks and advancement?

There is still a third dimension that has not been well addressed. Just what is the responsibility of those who do not have a college education and who either could not afford one or chose another path. What is the responsibility of those in our workplace with degrees earned in the time when personal responsibility was more the norm? Are they all to be taxed at ever increasing levels to provide education to others? Do they feel there is a common benefit or is that argument a diversion put forward by advocates of government funding that supports their own interests. If we all agree that there is now a common responsibility to finance higher education at a much higher level, how much is enough.

Some aspects of federal funding for higher education are currently on the table in Washington. As a community that benefits significantly from the current system supporting higher education should we simply advocate for more of the same or is it time to reconsider where we are and to access what we have wrought?

md 7 years, 2 months ago

My grandfather was a doctor. He supported a large family by working fulltime. He payed his own schooling. Someone wanting to use my tax money to give them a better life riles me.I think with out loans,pells ect. the cost of school would come down.

kansasplains 7 years, 1 month ago

It is great to hear from Patricia Long at Baker University. One of the major points is that people can feel the need for a college education later in life, not only when they are 18 or 20. What needs to happen, and it is a shame that Baker University can not provide it, is a community college in Lawrence and Baldwin (Baldwin is a great town for those who have never been there), as well as eventually other towns throughout Kansas (see the article which appeared in the Journal World on Kansas Day) which would allow people to take courses later in life, including vocational courses, so that they could contribute as much as possible at any time in life, to society and for others. They would also enjoy many things - for example, Classical Music and World Music, which might not have interested them in their earlier years. There are many things possible if we extend the possibility of education beyond the present confines of the university years.

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