Pharos-Tribune

November 10, 2013

LUBBERS: Let's take a closer look at college value in Indiana

Teresa Lubbers
Guest columnist

---- — An invest-ment in higher educa-tion may be the most important purchase Hoosiers ever make. Investing in a college degree pays off in terms of more job opportun-ities and higher earnings, but the benefits extend far beyond financial returns. The advantages include increased social mobility, greater civic involvement, improved health and wellness, and a higher standard of living.

Despite the undeniable benefits of higher education, some have begun to question whether college is still worth it in response to rising tuition costs, growing student debt, and anecdotes about graduates who can’t find a job. Though these concerns are understandable, it’s clear by every meaningful measure that individuals with education beyond high school today are better off than those without it.

College graduates earn an average of $1 million more over their lifetimes and experience half the unemployment risk of those with only a high school diploma. As a group, college degree-holders represent a better prepared workforce that increases Indiana’s ability to attract outside investment, create jobs and spur new innovation. Moreover, as the state’s college graduates increase their standard of living, Indiana’s per capita income and tax revenues grow as well, paving the way for a higher standard of living for all Hoosiers.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s new “Return on Investment” report shows these realities in compelling detail. The report, available online at www.che.in.gov, is designed to empower students and families to make more informed decisions as they consider their higher education options. Through consumer-friendly profiles of Indiana’s colleges and universities, the report provides essential information about the average cost students will pay for college, the level of debt they incur, which industries graduates are likely to be employed in and what their earnings are likely to be over time depending on their program of study.

There is no mistaking the value of a college degree, but the data clearly show that the outcome also depends on individual choice — where students go to school, what they study, how long it takes them to graduate and how much debt they incur. Hoosiers also benefit from understanding which degree programs offer direct paths to specific professions versus those programs that may require more research, planning or advanced education to determine a career pathway.

Beyond future earnings, students should also consider other factors, such as personal interest, career development potential and value to society when selecting an area of study. Harder to quantify but no less important, these factors underscore the importance of purposeful planning, proactive college advising and effective career counseling.

Our goal — with the new “Return on Investment” report and through other ongoing efforts — is to present students and families with the facts, equipping more Hoosiers to complete college, maximize their return on investment, and achieve the passport to opportunity that a higher education provides.

Teresa Lubbers is with the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education.