The value of education has never been greater

Help us help you by sharing your comments on the preliminary recommendations.

A sign tacked next to the bowling alley in the basement of Coffman Union serves as an irreverent reminder for why many of us have come to the University: “Education: the next best thing to a record deal.”

There’s no doubt that some of us, at one time or another, have dreamed of becoming the next big rock star, playing in the National Basketball Association or starring in a Hollywood blockbuster.

But the truth is, a college education is a better value than a lot of record deals ” and it’s becoming more and more important every day. It’s providing growing returns, whether measured in future earning power or becoming fully engaged members of society.

As we start the new year and a new semester, it’s important to take stock of why we’re all here ” as students, and as teachers and administrators working to transform the University to create an even more valuable education.

Beyond individual economic returns, college education offers significant non-pecuniary and social returns. A report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching found that, among other things, college-educated people tend to be more open-minded, more rational and less authoritarian. The report also confirmed that college attendance decreases prejudice and enhances knowledge of world affairs. Another study found that the college-educated even had more hobbies, more leisure activities and spent more time with their children, which, in turn, resulted in improved quality of life for succeeding generations.

But, a recent study by economics professors Antony Davies and Thomas Cline at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh underscored how increasingly valuable a college education is becoming from an economic standpoint.

In 1977, the average 18-year-old with a high school diploma could expect to earn $700,000 over the course of his or her career. A college graduate, after subtracting the cost of private-school tuition, could expect to earn $1.1 million. That’s $400,000 more than the high school graduate.

Now fast-forward to 2002. The study projects that the average 18-year-old with a high school diploma could expect to earn $1.8 million over his or her lifetime. But the college graduate, after subtracting the cost of tuition, could expect to earn $4 million, according to the study. That’s a $2.2 million gain ” nearly six times the benefit the 1977 college student accrued.

Davis and Cline conclude that “over the past 25 years, the average rate of return on an investment in a college education has been three times the return on Treasury bills, twice the return on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and one and a half times the return on the Nasdaq.”

What’s more, Davies and Cline found that in 2002 the increased earning power of a college education paid for the extra cost of tuition in 9.1 years of graduation ” down from 11.4 years in 1977. We all know that tuition has been rising steadily for nearly 30 years. But, the investment has never been more valuable.

The core skills you learn in college ” writing, for example ” show up in what, for some, may be surprising places.

Earlier this year, Warren Buffet, the chief executive Berkshire Hathaway, who is renowned for his investing acumen, was given the Extraordinary Contributions to the Art and Craft of Writing Award for his legendary annual reports to shareholders.

“He is a model for all of us who strive to better our professional contributions through effective and meaningful communication,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the college board, in granting the award.

Although many may not link good writing with successful investing, others do. That’s just one of many reasons we are focusing so much of our attention on transforming the University by improving undergraduate education ” including writing skills. Likewise, we are working to internationalize our University and to better embrace diversity, because we recognize that your future success will be measured by how well you thrive in an increasingly borderless, multicultural world spurred on by globalization.

So welcome back to school and Happy New Year! Before your workload becomes too heavy, we encourage you to invest in your education once again by helping us help you.

Please go online at: www.umn.edu/transforming_the_u, to share your comments on the preliminary recommendations from 11 strategic positioning task forces that have worked to improve a broad range of University pursuits. On the Transforming the U Web site, you’ll find a summary of these recommendations, the full reports and a link to where you can post your comments directly to task force members.

Thanks for your help and thanks to the many students who served on these task forces.

We may not be able to give you a record deal. But we can provide you with something even better: An education that will provide real benefits for you and succeeding generations.

Jerry Rinehart is vice provost for Student Affairs and Craig Swan is vice provost for Undergraduate Education. Please send comments to [email protected]