CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Opinion

March 18, 2013

COMMENTARY: College Benefits Go Beyond Money

Every fall, just before classes begin, we at UCLA send thousands of our new students out to volunteer projects at schools, parks and community centers across Los Angeles. It's a massive effort that serves our city and sets the tone for their experience. The takeaway: You are part of something greater, and you have a responsibility to help others however you can.

I admire the recent efforts by Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden to provide students with information about how much they will earn if they attend college and pursue different courses of study, but I also worry about how students will be influenced. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act is a clear reaction to rising college costs and mounting student debt. President Barack Obama also recently launched a similar bang-for-your-buck "College Scorecard."

Unfortunately, framing higher education as a "return on investment" is wrongheaded — a result of states' growing disinvestment in higher education. Diminishing support shows a lack of recognition for the ways higher education benefits society, sending a message that college is something people do just for themselves, not also for their communities.

Such data can be highly misleading. A graduate's income in the first few years after college is a poor barometer of earnings potential later in life. Students might join the military, Teach for America or the Peace Corps and then go on to higher salaries in their 30s or 40s.

I also fear that the emphasis on measurable data, such as earnings, will overshadow unmeasurable data, such as what it means for a medical school graduate to practice in a poor, underserved area. Or what it means to become a teacher at a low-performing high school and inspire others to apply to college.

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