The world works best when people remember that we're all in this together. While it is hard to correlate the benefits of a college education to societal well-being, never in my 35 years in higher education have I seen a more pronounced and sustained effort by young people to choose careers that serve society.
It's a backlash, perhaps, to the 1980s individualist mantra that "greed is good." The dramatic Wall Street downturn five years ago was also a stern warning to graduates that such a mantra cannot be sustained.
Universities, particularly those supported with public funds, exist to serve society. Asking students to choose a future based on a salary scale does not serve society and, often, does not serve the individual. Students need freedom and encouragement to find their passions and strengths. Framing decisions about college as a cost-benefit analysis will not encourage the creativity and risk-taking that has made this nation great.
Too often the academic community is accused of being divorced from the challenges of the outside world. But we in academia are all too aware of the struggles many students face paying for college and finding jobs after graduation. And we're constantly looking for new ways to support them.
More and more, colleges and universities are also working aggressively to connect with the worlds beyond our campuses. The college experience cannot occur solely in lecture halls.
Last year, 3.1 million college students performed 118 million hours of service across the United States — a contribution valued at $2.5 billion. Here in Los Angeles, students from English classes helped high schoolers with college essays; German classes interviewed Holocaust victims for oral history projects; environmental engineering classes taught K-12 kids about climate change and water quality.
That service ideal stays with them after graduation. Each year, thousands of students will find jobs in nonprofits that assist people throughout the nation and the world. And they choose to do it — based on the critical thinking skills they developed at our campus. It's true they will bring down the average salary of recent college graduates, but their dedication and sacrifice will also inspire many more.