Why is a college education important?
At face value, that appears to be a simple question to answer. More opportunities, better job security and advanced critical-thinking skills are just a few of the advantages college graduates enjoy due to their two- or four-year degrees.
But in today's ever-changing world what appears to be simple, oftentimes ends up being convoluted by outside forces, such as our stagnant national economy. Thanks to this era of tight credit and high unemployment, some people are beginning to doubt the value and benefits of a college education. In doing so, many people are shortchanging their future for the here and now.
One of the major benefits of the college experience is the intangible impact college educated individuals have in our society. The cultural enrichment that occurs from interacting with sundry individuals from all over the world is immeasurable. In today's multicultural and complex world, understanding the cultures of other nations and individuals is invaluable. Many of society's prejudices and stereotypes come from the lack of understanding of other cultures and how that impacts behavior at global, national and individual levels. President Obama's meeting with the Emperor of Japan and the fallout is instructive of cultural differences at a global level.
The appreciation of a work of art, a painting and, yes, a piece of music is a byproduct of culture. College endeavors to teach students to appreciate these cultural artifacts in addition to whatever field of study a student may be interested in studying. For more than 87 years, Misericordia University has been imbuing in its students a sense of service to others. This effort has been recognized by President Obama who acknowledged the work of the university by naming it to the 2010 President's Higher Education Community Honor Roll. Misericordia has been on the President's Honor Roll four straight years and this year received a "With Distinction'' designation, an honor given to only a few colleges in the county.
Examples of service to others abound at Misericordia. Many of our academic classes have service-learning components to them. As someone who teaches one of these classes, I can tell you that my students have gained valuable insights into different cultures from their work at public schools in the region as after-school tutors. Comments from them have indicated that their introduction to new cultures has been the highlight of their college experience. Now prepared with cultural acumen, these students can contribute to society in a myriad of positive ways.
They will leave college as cultured individuals. One cannot put a price tag on such learning. These are the students who will eventually work for non-governmental organizations and community agencies because they take pride in helping others less fortunate in society. They are more likely to vote and participate in civic society, and for many of them, the environment will become a major concern
Another aspect of the intangible impact of a college education is the camaraderie among students that is promoted through sports, club activities and other related outlets. Many residential colleges have athletic complexes and special activities for students that teach the value of teamwork, healthy living and leadership. These opportunities contribute to making society more productive, help to reduce health care costs and also produce more well-rounded individuals.
The concept of lifelong learning that society is promoting is best exemplified in a collegiate setting. The chances are that a good number of college graduates will continue to want to learn during their lifetime. Having been exposed to the joy and beauty of learning and the possibilities that follow, college graduates will not be content with their current knowledge and skill set. More and more people are returning to college — not necessarily to get a degree — but to learn new skills and improve on their hobbies or interests, be it painting or their appreciation of music. These are byproducts of a college education that cannot be easily quantified financially.
Kingsley Banya, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.