Is College Worth It?

A new report shows many Americans are beginning to question whether college is actually worth it. Greg Kelly says the answer is clear: Yes.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

—John Dewey

When my physician-dad was in his late 40s he ran for a seat on our local school board of education (What—he didn’t have enough to do, already being a busy doctor, husband and father of 8 children?). He lost, badly. But I give him credit for trying.

Hurting his chances, aside from the fact that he was a physician and many thought him out of touch, was the fact that he advocated for “college” for all the children in our small seaside community.

One of his chief campaign planks was: “Primary schools should discipline the mind toward higher education. One is inseparable from the other.” Dad strongly believed that a college education was the key to securing a successful future.

Another theme he ran on was academic accountability: “Improve the report card system—don’t destroy it. Everyone needs a goal.” Clearly, the guy was a troublemaker. Back in the 1960s, as my mom said, the “clamdiggers” didn’t agree.

A campaign piece from Charles W. Kelly, MD's, school board campaign.

For me, there’s no question that college was worthwhile. It was at a then little old school on the Jersey Shore, Monmouth College, that I found out who I was, what I was good at, and how to make friends. The experience truly helped to form me as a person. I see this wonderful evolution in both of my children who are now college students.

And getting a college degree is still a fairly unique accomplishment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 1 in 3 Americans have one. The Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report recently asked “the question so many Americans seem to be asking: Is college worth it?” The report is based on a web survey of more than 30,000 graduates from across the nation with a bachelor's degree or higher. There’s seem to be some doubt about its value.

College alumni were asked to rate on a 5-point scale (ranging from [1] strongly disagree to [5] strongly agree) whether “their education was worth the cost.” Only half of the graduates overall (50%) were unequivocally positive in their response, giving the statement a 5 rating. Another 27% rated their agreement at 4, while 23% gave it a 3 rating or less.

Beyond just the enormous expense (according to the College Board, in 2015 the average annual cost of public college is about $23,000; at a private college it’s about $46,000), one can certainly wonder and worry about the direction and culture on many of today’s college campuses. But the learning journey is worth it. Few know this better than good doctors.

A wise person once told me that you really only remember one thing on the day you earn your college degree—the reaction on your parent’s face. In all my years spent with Dr. Charles W. Kelly, I never remember a happier face than his on the day I became a college graduate.