A worthwhile investment

During the recent Olympics you may have heard about snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and her father, who made a trip to market every week to sell a cow to fund Kaitlyn’s snowboarding. Similarly, as a kid I was very involved with our local 4-H program and it was understood that the funds raised each year from the sale of my market project (rabbits, sheep, etc.) would go into my college savings account. I also traded a horse and some of my hard-earned cash for my first car. Although most of society doesn’t have cows or horses to sell/trade, these are real-life examples of making an investment in the future.

Much like Kaitlyn and me, the Business Leaders of Michigan are concerned about investments—or, perhaps, lack thereof—in the state of Michigan. Last fall, they and the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan released a report delineating the value of Michigan‘s investment in higher education. It’s commonly known that those with a degree are more likely to command a higher salary, have less unemployment, and are less likely to live in poverty. A few weeks ago the Pew Research Center released a similar report on the value of attending college. The report concluded that:

• a college education is worth more today;
• college benefits go beyond earnings;
• college grads are more satisfied with their jobs;
• the cost of not going to college has risen;
• college grads say college is worth it; and
• college majors matter.

I know our students and their families are smart enough to recognize all of these points, but there are three in particular that I’d like to emphasize.

• College education is worth more today. If you look at average earnings of today’s grads, there is a nearly $20,000-per-year difference between those with a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree. The gap is significantly higher in engineering fields, with averages being closer to $35,000–40,000.
• The benefits go beyond earnings. Millennials have far lower unemployment rates, are less likely to be living in poverty, are more likely to be married, and (the big one!) are less likely to be living in their parents’ home.
• Major matters. Grads in science in engineering are more likely to say that their current job is closely related to the field they studied and least likely to say a different major would have prepared them for the job they really wanted.

By virtue of being at Michigan Tech and enrolled in college, I know our students realize the value of a college education. It’s also blatantly obvious that our employers realize the importance of a highly educated, skilled, and motivated workforce. Our world is a much different place today than it was twenty (or even five) years ago. But this change is exciting because of our students and the alums who paved the way, opened the doors and minds of others, and helped us to embrace change and possibility head on.

It’s a no-brainer that the investment you make today will undoubtedly reap great rewards tomorrow. Michigan Tech’s recent Generations of Discovery Campaign (and the $215 million from alumni and friends that it raised) is yet another investment that will pave the way for students and others. And like many of our students and their parents, my many years of 4-H projects helped me to make an investment for a lifetime in education. The pace of change is rapid and it’s important that each of us, the BLM, and the Presidents Council are working to ensure that government leaders and others continue to make this investment in higher education for Michigan and our future.