Walking across my beautiful campus in West Hartford, Conn., after a week of summer-like weather, I was not focused on the blooming jonquils or budding weeping willows, but instead on the greeting I planned to deliver to 150 prospective students -- young women from diverse ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds who are soon to enroll as first-year (some the first-in-their-family) college students. I mentally reviewed the fact that there has been considerable recent debate and political discourse related to higher education. These discussions have ranged from concerns about escalating tuition, critiques of the curriculum, and attacks on accreditation, to questions about whether young people should even aspire to attain college degrees.
I intentionally cleared these discussions from my head and instead reflected on what parents and prospective students might really want to hear. I needed to present what was exciting, rewarding, and transformative about coming to Saint Joseph College (soon to be University of Saint Joseph). Looking out at the audience of teens, parents, siblings, and a few grandparents, I realized that the national debate has missed what is really important. Certainly we are all dismayed by rising costs of tuition and unreasonable student debt, but simplistic notions and imperfect understanding of the factors involved will not curtail these problems any more than simple declarations will return us to the days of $0.89/gallon gasoline. What I believe parents and students seek is an understanding of the value of education. Why should they spend their money and their time engaging in this activity?
We must recognize that education is an investment in our future. When we buy a car, we know that it begins to lose value the moment it is driven off the lot, but we need it for transportation and so we judge it by other criteria. We buy other material things that can be lost or stolen, but we make a decision to purchase them based on multiple factors. Should we judge our education by these same standards? I believe that, as one of my mentors once advised me, "an education is always yours and can never be taken away." Further, he went on to suggest that a degree might be compared to a stock certificate: as the institution that issued it gains prestige, the degree grows in value and this value can be built upon for the rest of our life. If this is not enough, I have to note that an education for a woman brings even more benefits. Developmental psychology research suggests that educating a woman enhances the health, prosperity and well-being of her whole family. We at Saint Joseph College feel that our emphasis on service to others brings that enhancement to the entire community.
So my words of greeting and the remarks of the others who welcomed our prospective students and their families to our campus included stories about how our students were transformed by the opportunity to learn, think, and engage the world in new and exciting ways. We shared inspiring anecdotes about how education helped our students grow into community leaders and successful professionals. And our current students demonstrated that their education enabled them to interact with poise and confidence. Our visitors were invited to join a community dedicated to their success and their growth as women, where we will educate them to become ethical citizens of a global community. It is difficult to calculate the price of such opportunity.