Questions over the efficacy of a university degree continue to challenge the higher education community. Is it really worth the investment?
A university degree is expensive. There’s really no way around that fact. If you cut away the population of students who are going full-ride, you still have a substantial number of degree-seekers who will come out of university with insurmountable debt. It’s a terrifying fact that many uses as reasoning not to pursue a degree.
But, let’s take a step back and think about university education as more than investing in a future job. Instead, let’s think of it in terms of what it affords — an opportunity to transform.
The importance of Higher Education: 8 Reasons Why
1. The Obvious
Let’s start with the obvious — there is a serious wage gap between those with and without a degree. And that gap is projected to grow. In fact, a collective study by the Center on Education and it found that people who hold a bachelor’s degree and work full-time earn 84% more in their lifetime than those with a high school diploma.
People with a university education also enjoy other benefits like health and life insurance, both of which lead to a longer lifespan. Over a lifetime, those with a degree simply earn more — whether that is money, benefits, or both.
2. The Future and Artificial Intelligence
The job market is changing dramatically to match the growth of artificial intelligence. As technology becomes smarter and more sophisticated, companies are able to filter out certain roles in favor of automation. This means that jobs are changing. Roles that used to rely on human interaction are being replaced with artificial intelligence.
3. Learning How to Think
Higher education isn’t just about earning a degree. If we step back and examine what a university experience entails, we can see that it is more than just attending classes and taking exams. In fact, higher education is about learning new ways of thinking and acquiring problem-solving skills.
Students are asked to reason outside of their comfort zones. They are taught to engage in critical thinking as both an individual and as a member of a classroom. In many cases, students are required to stretch their imagination in both oral and written works, often presented in front of their peers. In other words, a university education teaches students to think differently.
Outside of earning a degree, a student will graduate with new and improved skills in critical thinking, analytics, written and oral communication, and group problem-solving.
4. International Education
Though not always compatible with every degree option, most schools with strong abroad programs are flexible in helping students pursue international study. We could dedicate a whole article to the benefits of studying abroad, but the most important takeaways are increased experience in global education, independence, language proficiency, and cross-cultural learning excursions that enhance classroom instruction.
Study abroad ranges in duration from a few weeks in the summer to an entire year, and many institutions offer special pricing for their programs. In some cases, an institution will have an established program abroad that allows students to study at the same price of tuition as in their home campus. It is rare to have that kind of opportunity outside of university education.
5. Immersive and Experiential Learning Opportunities
Today’s universities are investing a lot of time and energy into immersive and experiential learning opportunities. The future is hands-on! Students learn best when they have outside experiences to augment classroom instruction, and immersive and experiential learning takes students into real-world settings like practicums, hospitals, and internships. Within these professional environments, students can practice the theories they learn in the classroom.
They are also given new responsibilities that, on a smaller scale, match the work environment they are interested in. Finally, students can use these experiences to test their interest in their passions. Sometimes, an internship or practicum is all that a student needs to realize they do or do not want to pursue their chosen field of study.
Some universities allow undergraduate students to engage in research opportunities independently or alongside a professor. This is a huge benefit to students who are looking to gain some experience before pursuing a master’s degree, where research is almost always a requirement of the program.
In other cases, some schools actually require their undergraduates to complete a capstone or final thesis as a component of graduation. No matter what the circumstance — even if not conducted for the purpose of graduate school admittance — research teaches valuable skills in project management and writing etiquette. This kind of experience is very attractive to employers who are looking for evidence of dedication and personal discipline.
It cannot be overstated that alumni play a major role in the future of higher education. They give back to their communities, they provide gifts to their institutions, and in many cases, they offer up a network for students who are looking to land a job after college.
A strong alumni network can go a long way in the job search, with many alumni eager to help recent graduates find an opportunity within their field of study. Some institutions even invite their alumni to come back to campus and act as panel members for upperclassmen. Students are given the chance to ask vital questions about their industry, while alumni can offer up advice, information, and even networking opportunities.
8. Personal Growth and Independence
If we think of earning a degree within the traditional undergraduate track, we can consider a university education to be an important phase of independence and problem-solving.
Undergraduate students are inundated with pivotal changes, many of which take place outside of the classroom. Students must learn how to manage their time, how to deal with new people and roommates, how to talk to their professors, and how to navigate their new, social settings. Most importantly, students must gain the independence to make these decisions on their own.
University education is so much more than tackling new challenges in the classroom. It’s about learning how to manage newfound independence in a way that is practical and safe.
Why Is Higher Education Important?
The world is changing. Technology is developing beyond our wildest dreams, and complex issues in business, environment, and politics continue to challenge our society. Higher education prepares students to meet these challenges with grit and determination.
University education is more than classroom instruction. It is a holistic journey that explores facets of individuality, perseverance, and skill. A degree is about learning how to think, communicate, and deliver. More realistically, it can be considered as a transformation — from potential to realization.