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In 2023, college is a great next step for many after high school

January 4, 2023


This article, which ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, is co-signed by Father James P. Burns, president, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; Lori J. Carrell, chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester, Jeffery S. Boyd, president, Rochester Community and Technical College; Scott Olson, president, Winona State University; Adenuga Atewologun, president, Riverland Community College; John Poe, chair, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science; Jenifer K. Ward, president, Luther College; Kent Pekel, superintendent, Rochester Public Schools; Julie Nigon, executive director, Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges (GRAUC); and Julie Ruzek, executive director, Cradle to Career.

If you’re helping a young person with this big decision, you may wish to talk through these reasons to consider going to college.

“So, what are you going to do when you graduate?” If you have the gift of a young person in your life, you know their decisions about next steps are pivotal — and stressful. I’m joined by nine other Rochester-area education leaders in affirming the importance of considering college. As educators and families work together to support high school seniors during this critical life transition, we do so in a context that is different from the one we experienced at that same stage of life.

Today’s young people are coming of age during a global pandemic and an era of societal strife. Social media feeds put those challenges front and center day and night, fueling anxiety about the future. The current tight labor market and inflation are evident to the grown-ups, making some — like the Texas authors of a recent Post Bulletin editorial on the topic — question the need and value of college.

At the same time, for young people these decisions are personal. They are moving from the childhood question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” to a more adult question that requires them to connect aspirations to concrete next steps. Many are asking themselves, “How can I make a living and make a difference in a world full of challenges?”

We know that one size does not fit all. Attending a two- or four-year college isn’t the right option for every student, but it’s something every student should be prepared for and should carefully consider. If you’re helping a young person with this big decision, you may wish to talk through these reasons to consider going to college.

  1. You will be able to take care of yourself and others you love over your lifetime. That’s what economists call “return on investment” (ROI). Some credential or degree after high school still pays off when analyzed for lifetime earnings potential. A study at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that the average lifetime earnings of a worker with only a high school diploma is about $1.3 million, while a person with a college degree earns nearly $1 million more, and a person with an advanced degree averages nearly $2.7 million, or more than twice as much as the high school graduate.
  2. You will find people at college who are committed to supporting your continued learning, development, and financial well-being. Higher education institutions in the Rochester region have caring professors as well as people ready to help you with financial aid and personal budgeting, career exploration, academic advising, tutoring, disability services, counseling, and more. You will not be alone as you strive for success at college.
  3. You will have more choices in your future. Many of the in-demand professions important to the Rochester region (and beyond) require further learning beyond high school (and the credentials that represent that learning) — including most trades, nurses, medical doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, counselors, researchers, accountants, and the list goes on. Other jobs that will become available in your lifetime don’t even exist yet, as artificial intelligence and other advancing technologies continue to change the way we work and the types of work that are needed. College can educate you for a future full of open doors and new possibilities.
  4. You live in a world that needs you to develop your full potential. There are a lot of problems out there that need solving. Another kind of ROI is the common good of an educated citizenry ready to tackle the increasingly complex challenges of our world, together. The recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion that holds the potential to solve the climate crisis is an example of the kind of work the world needs. We want you to have a good life and make a good living, and we also need you and other young people to work for the greater good of humanity.
  5. You will meet other fascinating young people. Many of us grow up surrounded by people who are similar to us. The diversity of a campus community provides the opportunity to get to know people with perspectives different from your own. Those new friendships can be fun, for sure — but connecting across differences is also a key competency employers are seeking (and that society sorely needs). College brings new friends, new perspectives, and new skills.
  6. You have more to learn. No matter how much you know now, there is more to learn, and college provides the opportunity to dig deep into the problems you want to solve and the issues that make you curious. (Discovering a sense of purpose is linked with happiness!) At the same time, colleges in the Rochester region are connected with employers so we can ensure your coursework is not only relevant to you now, but also designed to develop the competencies that will help you launch your career when you graduate.
  7. You can find a campus that is worth the investment. Colleges and universities in the Rochester region are innovating to adapt to the emerging needs of young people, employers, and society — including new approaches to decreasing student costs while increasing student success. There are many ways to finance your education, and there is no more valuable investment you can make in yourself and your future than a college education.

We are united in our commitment to develop human potential, providing pathways to financial stability for individuals while also contributing to the common good now and into the future.