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Kina Mallard: Private colleges offer personal, public benefits

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Dr. Kina Mallard, executive vice president and provost

(The following article appeared in the Sunday, June 1, issue of the Knoxville News Sentinel)

by Dr. Kina Mallard, executive vice president and provost

(June 1, 2014)– Recent news articles and editorials have posed a question that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

The question, “Is a private college education worth it?” is being debated in state and national government venues and local, state and national news outlets. The answer depends on whom you ask, and a quick Google search finds support attesting to a college degree’s financial and personal worth.

In addition to these two benefits, private colleges are for the public good.

-Financial advantage: If you compare earning power over a lifetime, the results are clear. Research from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows people with a bachelor’s degree make 84 percent more over a lifetime than high school graduates. On average, a college graduate will earn $2.3 million, compared with $1.3 million for those with a high school diploma. According to a recent Pew Research analysis of census data, over the course of a 40-year working life, the typical college graduate earns an estimated $550,000 more than the typical high school graduate — even after factoring in the costs and foregone earnings associated with going to college.

-Personal satisfaction. Beyond dollars-and-cents evaluations, the Pew Research survey finds that college graduates, on average, are happier and more satisfied with their jobs, their financial situations and their educations than those who did not attend college. It also finds that most graduates say that their college education helped them grow intellectually (74 percent), mature as a person (69 percent) and prepare for a job or career (55 percent).

-Public good. In addition to the financial and personal benefits to the individual graduate, there are greater lasting benefits for the public good — for communities and societies as a whole. Students are experiencing transformative education provided by the 50-plus private colleges in Tennessee and the more than 1,600 private colleges nationwide.

The recent debate over the value of a college education demonstrates that some don’t see colleges as important for the public good. Perhaps those individuals didn’t attend a private college and didn’t experience a holistic education with nurturing academic faculty. Perhaps they don’t fully understand that the mission of a private college is to transmit values and responsibilities as well as knowledge, developing educated and ethical citizens who are competent leaders and become forces in our communities.

Lasting happiness comes when one’s work and words serve others and when private lives are poured out for the public good.

Tennessee’s private colleges are strong, engaged members of their communities and pass this value on to their students. Each spring, the Corporation for National and Community Service recognizes colleges and universities across the nation that excel in community service. In 2013, an inspiring 60 percent of the institutions recognized in Tennessee were private colleges.

There are schools that teach accounting. There are schools that teach accountants. And there are schools that focus on teaching accountants how to engage ethically and responsibly with the broader world.

These are the private colleges and universities whose mission is to help students mature as they grapple with questions such as: Who am I and what is my purpose in life? What are my thoughts and feelings about life, death, God, love, art, music, history, science? How does my life connect with a larger culture? What is my future career, and how will it impact the world? How can my personal goals affect the public good?

This kind of academic experience fosters a life of inquiry, virtue and social commitment.

Private colleges help students find their place in the world, embracing the philosophy of Frederick Buechner, who encouraged the search for where one’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.

Private colleges help students be not only the best in the world, but the best for the world. And this is a value worth the cost.

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