Published on 9/21/2021.
What is the value of higher education? Some people see higher education as a way to increase their earning potential. Others see it as a gateway to career opportunities after graduation. As an educator and a president of an exceptional community college in California, I believe that higher education is vital to our democracy and is, as Nelson Mandela said, “…the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
CR’s faculty, staff, administrators and board of trustees are committed to the College and the communities it serves because we believe that the purpose of higher education is to provide the tools students need to think deeply and critically. While our commitment to CR and its mission is deep and unshakable, we have seen the value of higher education called into question.
In an article titled, “Does a college education have value? Only 60% of Americans say yes” published in the September 13 University Business magazine, Chris Burt wrote that most employers value higher education, but the public is divided on this question across socioeconomic and political lines. According to Mr. Burt:
- Only 60% of the 2,200 adults polled in early March said higher education possesses the best track to future success. By contrast, nearly 90% of the 496 business leaders surveyed said credentials and degrees are essential.
- Only 27% of all adults feel a college education is “definitely worth it,” 33% say it’s “probably worth it,” while close to 30% say it is definitely not worth it. Another 10% simply do not know.
- Individuals expect more than ever to see a return on investment when considering post-secondary paths.
- An education devoid of the development of real-world skills likely will not cut it.
- The majority of adults who were polled say they believe building critical thinking and communication skills is essential as students prepare for the workplace of the future.
- More than half of employers surveyed agree that well-rounded employees are best.
- Colleges and universities that can best align their offerings with critical thinking and communication skills—and not just a focus on STEM, for example—not only will be in the best position to attract students but will also prepare them to meet the needs of employers.
Our faculty have reframed Mr. Burt’s question and has been reflecting on how we can make a College of the Redwoods education more valuable. We know that students will have more choices for higher education in the future. We know that future students, employers, and society need us to provide outstanding transfer and career education. We know that our local business community will want us to provide training to meet ever-changing workforce needs. I am confident that our self-reflection will culminate in a visionary long-term strategic academic plan that looks at opportunities for growth and honors our uniqueness.
I have written that CR’s partnership with HSU—especially important now that HSU will become a polytechnic university—is important and mutually beneficial and that we have to do our best to discover new academic opportunities together. I am proud that our collaboration has already resulted in academic and student services innovations.
While the CR/HSU collaboration is ground breaking and important, it is vitally important that we hold on to the programs and our cultural identity that makes College of the Redwoods unique and distinctive. We must continue to deliver the type of education that our faculty pride themselves on providing. Our faculty consists of individuals whose primary job is teaching and student success, not research or publication. We must continue to be the higher education institution that offers people the only opportunity for a college education without much debt. We want to continue to be the institution that a student can go to for a college degree or certificate administered by highly qualified faculty in small classes.
Is a College of the Redwoods education worth it? The answer is a resounding yes. At CR, we know that the kind of education we provide truly does pay.