Entrance Torch 2



August 26, 2019

Deuteronomy 8: 15-18

15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

The theme of Monday Morning Prayer this year is Journeys of Faith: Wilderness, Hope, & Promise. And since we’re kicking off the new year and everyone is filled with such hope and promise, I thought this might be a time to focus on the wilderness times in our journeys of faith.

I wish I could promise you that you won’t find yourself in the wilderness—feeling lost, alone, forsaken—uncertain of the way forward. But I can’t. You will find yourself there—whether you believe you are walking on the path God has laid for you and gradually discover that you’ve lost your way, or like those folks in the Star Trek transporter room, you suddenly and unexpectedly materialize in a place that feels empty, barren, foreign . . .and your communicator craps out on you.

That Star Trek wilderness was what happened to me when I started college. I was the oldest child and the first in my family to go to college, so nothing about going away to school was familiar to me or my parents. I was also introverted, socially awkward and had pretty low self-esteem. My social life revolved around my family and my church, and I was more comfortable around adults than my peers.

I applied to one college—a faith-based college aligned with my family’s church—and went off to school anxious, but also hopeful that I could re-invent myself.

In those days, as an incoming freshman you got a letter in the summer from the housing office with your dormitory name, room number, and the name of your roommate. I don’t remember if we were given contact information, but I wouldn’t have been the type to reach out first and my roommate didn’t contact me.

I arrived at college on move-in day and got up to the room to discover that my roommate had already moved in and had everything set up, but he wasn’t around. So, I moved all of my belongings in and got unpacked, eventually said goodbye to my parents, and hung out in the room waiting for dinner and the beginning of freshman orientation activities. Then, my roommate arrived. He introduced himself—seemed nice enough—pulled out a joint, lit it, and offered me a hit. (The most illicit thing I had ever done in high school was taste a thimble-full of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine my senior year.)

He said he was a senior, didn’t know why he got assigned a freshman roommate because he was hoping for a single and, oh, by the way, he planned to have his girlfriend over that night, so if I could find another place to spend the night, he would appreciate it.

So . . . I spent the first night of college sitting in the window of the third floor stairwell of Brinser Hall debating which option was better. Jumping or packing up and moving back home.

Star Trek. Materializing in the wilderness, feeling helpless, no one to turn to, no one to talk with. On my own.

Looking back, I find it interesting that, in spite of all my involvement with church prior to college, when I found myself truly lost in the wilderness, I did not think to turn to God for help.

The next morning, my RA was on his way to the shower, saw me sitting in the stairwell and asked me what was up. I told him my sad story and, before the end of that day, he had me moved into a single room. That single act of grace kept me in college.

That second night, alone in my single room and feeling very homesick, I decided to walk from my dorm to the student center for something to do. I walked past an old, unmarked wooden building where a group of students were standing around the entrance way. One of them looked at me and shouted, hey freshman, come over here. (In those days, as freshmen we wore beanies and big signs with our names around our necks and we were required to do whatever an upperclassman asked us to do, so I walked over.) The student said that they were doing a play and that they needed men and asked would I audition?

Don’t ask me how or why, but shy, awkward, introverted me said yes. And the act of saying yes changed the course of my life. I was cast in a small walk-on part in that play, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and from that day in September 1973 and for the next 22 years of my life, I would become a professional actor, director, designer, producer, and discover my vocation, as a professor of theatre.

Reflecting back over the years, I came to know that it was in that wilderness, that place where I felt so alone and abandoned and helpless, when I didn’t know what to do, that God came to me and showed me a pathway out of the wilderness.

On the journey, through my friends and classmates and professors and colleagues, I came to know Jesus and to understand how, into those dark places of emptiness, helplessness, and despair, God comes. Time and time again when I have found myself in the wilderness, when the way forward has been unclear or the next step seems impossible, God has come. God reminds me that I am a child of God, that there is nothing to fear, and God offers a way forward through that darkness and toward a future of hope and promise.

I have come to know the truth of today’s words from Deuteronomy: that it is God that has led me through the vast and dreadful wilderness. It is God that has fed me when I was starving and it is God that has quenched my thirst. And while there have been times in my life when I may have congratulated myself for something I achieved, it is God who gave me that ability. It is God who placed that RA in that dorm stairwell. It is God who called out, hey freshman, come here.

Come and see this plan I have for you. . . on your journeys of faith.


Today I’m going to begin by doing just the opposite of what I normally do when I begin remarks: I am requesting that all of our new students in the audience pull out your phones and turn them on — not off. That’s right. Pull them out. Open your camera. Now take a selfie.

If you don’t have your phone with you or it’s not charged, don’t worry. For the rest of you, don’t hit that delete button. I’ll be asking you to pull out your phones again later.

What a day. Welcome to Valpo. It is here, amongst fellow students, a caring and dedicated faculty, staff, and administration, that friendships will be forged … character tested … where you’ll cram for tests and learn how to cope with your new-found freedom … where you’ll be challenged to grow, pursue your dreams, and find your full potential.

And we start that journey today. Here, in our historic and famous Chapel of the Resurrection.

You may have read these words on our website — now your website: “The freedom to pursue truth wherever it leads is at the heart of Valpo’s sense of community, uniting its academic and spiritual missions.”

Freedom. The pursuit of truth. Uniting the academic and the spiritual. These are lofty words, but, then again, this is Valpo. Your community. A place where you will discover more than a career path, but rather a personal vocation, a calling that will put your unique gifts to work for the sake of the world. A place where, if you so choose, you will experience a community that loves learning and celebrates the joy of discovery.

Our total commitment to each of you is to help prepare you for lifelong learning and leadership … To offer opportunities for personal and professional development … To provide you with the depth of understanding to excel in your chosen major and to perceive connections between disciplines …. To prepare you to be engaged citizens and service-driven leaders.

The education you will receive here will prepare you to make a living, but more important, it will prepare you to make a life. That is our total commitment to you … and the opportunity before you … should you choose to accept it.

Because I will tell you today, none of this will come to you automatically. It will take total commitment from you. To achieve your full potential, you must take an active role in your learning and be accountable for your success. And to discover your gifts and discern your calling, Valpo provides extraordinary opportunities to put what you learn into practice in the workplace, in research settings, in other countries, and in our larger community. Here, too, you will be called to serve generously and to make this campus community and the world a better place.

Creating Community in a 24-7 Connected World

These days, perhaps more than ever, people find themselves held in the tension that exists between the individual and the community. Here are just a few questions worth considering: Who are you as an authentic individual? And how does that authentic individual relate to public persona? What constitutes community? What is your authentic place in community with other people and how do you go about building and sustaining authentic community?

In the 20th century, community was most often constructed from one’s literal place in the world: a town, a school, a neighborhood. But in the 21st century, our very notion of community has shifted. Today’s ever-expanding communication technologies — our phones, the Internet, social media channels — are forcing us to relate to far more people and far more communities across a growing number of platforms. And the opportunity for people to construct and maintain inauthentic avatars in social media spaces adds levels of complexity and deception that strain traditionally held concepts of self and community to the breaking point.

Journalist and author Bill Bishop said this to The Atlantic: “It used to be that people were born as part of a community and had to find their place as individuals. Now people are born as individuals and have to find their community.”

Most of you — as part what some have termed Gen Z – have never known a world without social media, text messaging, and Internet search engines. Gen Z. I often wonder where these labels come from. The very name Generation Z came from an online contest sponsored by USA Today. Some of the other names proposed were iGeneration, Gen Tech, Net Gen and Digital Natives … all acknowledging how you’re the first generation to be born into this connected 24/7 world.

Just think how your college experience will be different from your parents’ generation. Most of you met your roommate online. Those of you who study abroad will wonder how generations of college students survived before Skype and WhatsApp. And imagine researching a paper without Google! Your grandparents, and parents and I had to rely on card catalogs and these massive reference books called the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Ask them about it.

While previous generations may have made signs and marched on campus, today movements are born on the Internet. A short list of hashtags — #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #ALSIceBucketChallenge and #BringBackOurGirls — reminds us of the power of social media to bring together people from across the world and ignite significant societal attention and change. There is no precedent for the speed and scope of social media in the entire recorded history of human communication and civilization

But for all of its positive contributions, social media also has significant downsides. It provides a mouthpiece for ideas and facilitates fringe movements that a wide majority of people find repugnant or unacceptable in contemporary society. It remains agnostic in its relationship to constructs of morality, truth, and authenticity, thereby fostering disinformation and inauthentic or patently false social interactions and thereby contributing to ever widening societal mistrust.

Social media can also create illusions that everyone else but us is living their best lives and that we are missing out. Instagram is full of images of happy families and airbrushed, beautiful bodies. Fabulous vacations. Fabulously curated dorm rooms. Fabulous meals. Scrolling through all those images of fabulousness — and the “likes” they garner — can distort our sense of self-worth and significance. We can begin to value gratification and surface perfection over the deep satisfaction that comes with practice and mastery and commitment over extended time.

But here’s a truth: Technology is not intrinsically bad or good.

The Internet and social media have created expansive global communities that bring together diverse people who do positive things for the sake of local communities, our nation and the world. They also have created niche, homogenous, like-minded communities around common interests. They have also facilitated echo chambers … echo chambers of intolerance, hatred, and violence.

The wide difference in outcomes depends on the individuals involved.

In a world in which the very definition of community is being reshaped through technology, the tools that will serve us best are not built by code … but by character.

So, we must ask: How can each of you, as authentic individuals and people of character, find your place as part of the Valpo community, and how, in turn, can this community enable and inspire you to be your best you for the sake of the world? First…

Get Connected and Lead

We all want to be part of something bigger. We want to discover something truly exceptional and tap into the energy of a movement that moves a society forward. Valpo is a place for those who strive for a better world. Here it is possible to be part of something bigger without losing yourself in the crowd.

As students new to Valpo, I encourage you to make connections by getting deeply involved in campus life. Whether it is a fraternity or sorority, a pre-professional group, a faith-based organization, the arts, a team or club sport, multicultural programs, or volunteering in our greater community … find a place in which you can practice and hone your leadership skills, develop authentic, lifelong friends, and make a difference.

But remember, just as the number of “likes” online doesn’t translate into action, neither is the number of groups you join a measure of your impact. Rather than dancing on the surface of many activities, decide what part of the Valpo community you wish to take ownership of and go deep.

Strive to be a leader who serves generously. It was Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer who said: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Next…

Do Some Social Listening

Online, businesses participate in social listening to learn about what people are saying about their brand — the good, the bad and the ugly. Here at Valpo, we’re more about inclusive listening and mutual respect. We don’t let our differences divide us. People from every background, faith, and perspective make up the community. No one is left out.

Listening is not an easy thing to do. Most of us assume we understand what others are saying and we reach conclusions based on our point of view and implicit biases. But inclusive listening requires one to practice intellectual humility and actively engage in critical thinking: recognize and question assumptions, and recognize that not all assumed truths are indeed true.

“For wisdom begins in wonder.” Those are the words of Socrates, the Greek philosopher. Widely acclaimed as a wise man and brilliant teacher, Socrates claimed to know nothing. Yet he knew the power of asking the right questions. He sought to get to the foundations of his students’ views by asking continual questions until a contradiction was exposed and tested their preconceptions. This type of teaching and learning became known as the “Socratic Method,” still used today in academic institutions across the world.

In the classroom, we will continually challenge you to weigh different viewpoints and to think critically, creatively and analytically. You will learn to delve into the whats, whys, and hows of the world. As a result, you will learn how to challenge your preconceived notions about “what is best” and be open and adaptable to the new and unexpected — skills that will serve you well in the unpredictability and ambiguity of our multicultural, global society. This all starts by engaging your curiosity and listening … really listening … with an open mind and heart.

Which will lead you to…

Building Your Brand in the Valpo Way

When searching for jobs, new graduates are often coached to build a personal brand online that differentiates them from the competition. To build a LinkedIn profile that emphasizes their areas of expertise … and write a résumé and social media profile description that include the main keywords that define their strengths.

All good advice.

But what if I asked you today to name main keywords that set you apart … not just in a professional capacity … but as a person? I hope your answer would include words like ethical, integrity, honesty, and generosity. You are unlikely to go wrong if that is the foundation of who you are and how you operate in the world.

At Valpo, we are a community of people called to this place to seek truth, serve generously, and cultivate hope. Here you will receive an education global in scope yet grounded in faith. I urge you to use your faith as a guide, to help you act with character and integrity, humility and generosity … even in tough situations.

At Valpo, we believe that the mind is an ally of faith, just as the heart and soul are allies of the mind. In fact, the Bible tell us no less than to ready our minds. From 1 Peter Chapter 3: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15b)

Martin Luther King Jr. understood this at a young age. As a student at Morehouse College, he wrote an essay on the purpose of education in the Maroon Tiger, the student newspaper. In the essay, he acknowledged that education should “teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” but he argued that “intelligence is not enough.” He wrote: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

Integrity. Honesty. Compassion. Humility. Fairness. These are among the foundational character traits that we hope to nurture in this Valpo community and that we believe will guide you to lead a life of purpose, service and fulfillment—keys to being happy. The other keywords that you choose to define you … that’s up to you to discover here. Get creative. Challenge yourself while you’re at Valpo to emerge with a clearer understanding of who you are and your unique gifts and strengths.

That’s why my final bit of advice is to…

Get Closer

Those of you who use Instagram have probably all used editing tools and the pinch-to-zoom function to get a more engaging photo. In fact, even the great WWII photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, get closer.” And that’s what I urge you to do here at Valpo: Get closer. Delve deeper. Go beyond.

When you find something that sparks your interest, pursue it. Work hard at it and become good it. You will lead a rich life not just by following your passion … but by working hard to excel at it.

This takes focus. Oprah Winfrey is said to start every meeting in the same way. She asks: “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?” Why? Because high performers understand that clarity and focus don’t just happen. You have to actively work for it. That’s how you get things done.

So, I urge you to dream. But don’t stop there. Do something about it. Get focused. Set goals. Take risks. Fail. Try again. Fail. Try again. Get closer. Do this, and I promise you, not only will you have a more rewarding experience at Valpo—our campus community will be richer for it.


Now grab your phone again.

Pull up that selfie you took earlier, and take a look. And I mean really take a look. Not at the superficial: your smile, your hair, your outfit. Go deeper.

Take a look at the potential in you that we all see. We — your parents and loved ones. Valpo faculty and staff. Your friends. Then think about how you will translate this potential into purpose, then purpose into reality.

When we are anchored in a true community that supports our ambitions, we can get closer, go deeper and fly higher. And today, you are joining a community that seeks to support all aspects of your growth — the intellectual, the spiritual and, yes, the social, too. Because Valpo offers the path-seeking, career-defining education that allows you to push your limits and become your best self. To prepare you to live your best life.

The satisfaction that comes with living to your full potential is immeasurable. It’s a quality of life Valpo graduates enjoy every day.

My hope for all of you is that on your graduation day, if you pull up the selfie that you took today, you’ll recognize how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. You’ll see the leader you are and know the strength of your character. You will recognize potential realized … your best you.

Welcome to Valpo!


“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

As we approach the final exam period, I want to first wish every student success in their academic pursuits. You have worked diligently this semester. You’ve spent countless hours studying and learning about a variety of subjects, engaging in class discussions that challenged perspectives and cemented life-long friendships, and working with others across disciplines to complete projects that impact more than your GPA. All this you’ve accomplished while overcoming the additional challenges presented by a global pandemic.

Just as we’ve experienced a semester that has looked different than the past, our Thanksgiving celebrations will also differ from the norm. Although we may not gather with large groups of family and friends, we still have the opportunity to reflect on the many blessings that surround us daily. This year especially, it is important to focus on how richly God has blessed our lives and the many reasons we have to be grateful.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to express how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve as Valpo’s interim president and for the resilience and determination of our entire campus.

To our valued students, thank you for trusting that our University would give you a quality, in-person education and for your patience as we adapted to new circumstances throughout the semester.

To our dedicated faculty members, thank you for adjusting to a new class schedule and delivery model and serving students outside of your normal office hours and outside of the classroom. You continue to be influential in the lives of our students and integral to the success of our University.

And to our committed staff members, thank you for completing roles and responsibilities that are often behind the scenes and for serving the University graciously and abundantly.

Like Emerson, I am thankful for you, my old and new acquaintances, for welcoming me as part of the campus community this year. It has been a great joy to reconnect with my alma mater and engage with a new generation of students, faculty, and staff.

I am truly thankful to count each of you among the many blessings God has bestowed upon Valparaiso University. I want to thank you for all that you do, each and every day, to make this University a distinctive and inviting place where together we pursue truth, serve generously, and cultivate hope.

During the semester break, I hope you can all find time to rest and recharge. I hope this time fills your heart with grateful moments, love of family and friends, and prayers of thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings, today and each day to come.


Colette Irwin-Knott ’81

Interim President

Valparaiso University

“This will remain the land of the free so long as it is the home of the brave.” — Elmer Davis

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Each year, we come together as a nation to recognize and celebrate the women and men who have defended our nation and protected our freedoms and liberties. More than 100 years ago, this annual day of remembrance originated as Armistice Day, to commemorate a temporary cessation of hostilities during World War I. Veterans Day was officially renamed and signed into legislation on June 1, 1954, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Countries around the world hold observances to honor veterans, many during the month of November. In the United States, one such observance is through a wreath-laying ceremony performed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Veterans hold an important place in our nation’s history as well as the history of our University. Throughout the years, veterans have studied, taught, and worked across this campus, sharing their unique perspectives, contributing to our diversity, and strengthening our community.

On this day, and every day, we are reminded of the debt we owe our veterans for their service, bravery, and sacrifice in defending our nation and upholding our values. Let us continue to support and honor these true heroes who have given everything for our freedoms, not only on this day, but throughout the year. Our country is built on the foundation of their courage and service.

To all students, faculty, and staff, I truly hope you will take some time to remember and acknowledge all our veterans who have put their lives on the line in service to us and our nation. Embrace this opportunity to connect with those who have served and let them know their bravery and service is appreciated and will never be forgotten.

To our veterans, past and present, we are grateful for your sacrifices and for your willingness to serve to protect each one of us — on campus, in the community, and across the country. We salute you. Thank you, and may God bless you.

With my sincere gratitude,

Colette Irwin-Knott ’81

Interim President-Elect

Valparaiso University


The news cycle increasingly features discussions about the value of a college degree. What is the financial advantage of the undergraduate degree over a lifetime? Are there alternative credentials that provide comparable outcomes? A series of questions regarding private colleges appears frequently in this public narrative. Is the value of a private education worth the cost? Will a student graduate with more debt than if they attended a public college? Do students receive as much financial aid at a private college compared to that at a public university? Can a private school provide the innovation and flexibility students are seeking?

In this column, I aim to take on some of the false narrative that gets repeated about private education by providing facts. These private college myths can deter some students and their families from choosing a private education even when this path may be the best decision for their future success.

Myth No. 1: Private universities do not give out as much financial aid.
A higher percentage of students enrolled at private universities qualify for financial aid than those at public institutions. In fact, nearly four out of every five students at a private college receive a combination of scholarships and grants from their chosen institution, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the Council of Independent Colleges and the U.S. Department of Education, students at private universities actually received three times as much financial aid than their public-university counterparts, and they receive four times as much as students at for-profit schools.

In addition, students who attend private colleges and universities are far more likely to graduate and less likely to default on their loans. For example, Valparaiso University’s low federal loan default rate of 3.1%, compared to a national average of 10.1%, reflects that a Valpo education enables our graduates to repay their loans as they pursue their passions.

Myth No. 2: Only wealthy families can afford to send their children to private universities because of the high tuition rates.
Typically, the actual amount students pay at a private university is less than 60% of the full cost of tuition at the institution. Across the board, private institutions enroll students of all financial backgrounds into various schools and programs.

Around 29% of undergraduates at private, nondoctoral institutions come from backgrounds where the families’ income was less than $40,000. Private colleges often have the flexibility to offer additional aid for students with special circumstances, allowing students an opportunity to attend where public colleges may be unable. At Valpo, 98% of all students receive financial aid.

Many private colleges are also supported by endowments, which allow schools to offer grants and scholarships to further reduce the “sticker price,” to levels sometimes equal to or lower than the price of attending a public college. At Valparaiso University, we are in the midst of the endowment-focused Forever Valpo: The Campaign for Our Future, which aims to raise an additional $250 million for student scholarships, programs and faculty development. More than $220 million has already been committed to the Forever Valpo campaign.

Myth No. 3: Private colleges aren’t innovative or flexible.
For the most part, private universities have smaller class sizes and lower student-to-faculty ratios than their peer public institutions. Classes are taught by faculty, not graduate students, and those faculty are focused primarily on student success, rather than individual research activities and scholarly publication. Faculty members know the students in their classes and work with them to create the most fulfilling college experience possible.

At private universities, undergraduate research opportunities are often available, offering opportunities for students and faculty to work together to develop innovative solutions for problems facing the world. Students at private universities are able to take advantage of these opportunities beginning as early as their freshman year, whereas student research opportunities at larger, public universities can be reserved for graduate students. Smaller enrollment at private institutions allows for increased hands-on opportunities for each student.

Thanks to small class sizes and dedicated staff and faculty, some students have the flexibility to customize their own course of study. By working closely with their individual advisers and selecting a variety of courses, students can construct a well-rounded degree that complements their career aspirations and helps them to reach their full potential.

Myth No. 4: Private college liberal arts programs are not a pathway to a job.
The value of a liberal arts education has long been debated in our nation. This approach to education encourages students to cultivate transferable skills in addition to their academic program of study. These “soft skills” are highly sought after by employers, who appreciate the adaptability of liberal arts graduates from job to job and across sectors. One study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities reports oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical judgement and decision making and applied knowledge in real-world settings as some of the top priorities of executives and hiring managers when considering recent graduates. The liberal arts tradition is known for fostering these skills through both academic courses and co-curricular programming.

Another concern of parents when considering private liberal arts colleges is long-term career success. Do students truly gain an advantage by studying in the liberal arts tradition? A recent study from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation reports attending a liberal arts college for most students leads to meaningful economic mobility. Thanks to the dialogue between students and professors, close reading and examination of a broad range of subjects and texts, graduates from private liberal arts colleges are prepared for a lifetime of success in an increasingly volatile employment environment.

Busting the myths
The facts offer a counter narrative when it comes to private higher education. Private colleges are not the expensive, inflexible institutions depicted far too often in media and public discourse. When preparing a college search game plan, parents and students should consider a variety of schools, large and small, public and private, to discover the best fit for each student. Higher education is one of life’s most important investments and can pay great dividends not only economically, but also in the quality and character of one’s lifetime. For many, a private college might well be the way to go.

There’s a narrative commonly circulated in media and political circles about the rising cost of higher education and student indebtedness. The narrative usually begins with this question: is a college education worth the investment? Folks who just read the headlines or rely on the opinion pages for their information might conclude that the value of a college degree is in decline. The facts tell a different story.

Contrary to this false narrative, a college education is more important now than ever before, for both tangible and intangible reasons. A college degree is still the surest way to increase wage potential. In addition, with the rise of artificial intelligence and the consistent call for multi-talented and flexible critical thinkers in our workplaces, college is — and will increasingly be — the best way to prepare for an uncertain future.

From a wage perspective alone, college is crucial to finding security in the often-unstable and unpredictable economy of the 21st century. According to a report on the value of college majors conducted by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, “people who earn bachelor’s degrees and work full-time can expect to earn 84 percent more than their peers with a high school diploma over their lifetime.”[1] The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates this earnings gap to be more than $32,000 per year, resulting in a lifetime total of nearly $1.4 million. This conservative estimate assumes the wage gap will not increase, which it has done for decades. Beyond wage earnings, college graduates also receive increased employer-provided fringe benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans that result in better health and longer life expectancy.[2]

In other words, investment in a college education yields an extremely strong return on investment, and any student (or parent) weighing the cost-benefits analysis of paying for higher education need only glance at those numbers to see that college is incredibly influential in terms of a person’s long-term financial stability and that its value is higher today than it ever has been. In addition, the Chronicle goes on to state that “graduates with bachelor’s degrees pay $563,000 more in taxes than high-school graduates who never attended college” — showing that these earnings benefit not just the individual but the greater economic environment as well.

Wage-earning potential is not the only way a college education paves the way toward a secure future. A 2018 report from Bain & Company Inc. examines how automation and artificial intelligence, among other factors, are changing the landscape of what it means to be a worker. The report predicts that “the rapid spread of automation may eliminate as many as 20 percent to 25 percent of current jobs — equivalent to 40 million displaced workers — and depress wage growth for many more workers.”[3] However, the researchers qualify this statement with the following: “The benefits of automation will likely flow to about 20 percent of workers — primarily highly compensated, highly skilled workers — as well as to the owners of capital.” Furthermore, “the demand for workers to build the automation tools of the future is already growing, and not only in fields such as engineering and software development.”[4] Tech companies will be calling for highly skilled employees trained in STEM-related fields, of course, but these same companies will need employees with communications, business and humanities backgrounds who can market their products, recruit potential investors and interact with clients and media. College graduates with industry-specific skills and the growth potential to weather the changes brought by artificial intelligence will contribute positively to the development, sale and use of technology as it changes the way we work.

While a college degree can certainly provide a student with specialized training in a particular field and higher income potential over a lifetime, what cannot be overlooked are the intangible skills that a college degree instills in its students. A 2016 study published in the Review of Educational Research found that “both critical thinking skills and dispositions improve substantially over a normal college experience”.[5] A New York Federal Reserve study published in 2014 confirmed that “college instills in students ‘aptitudes, skills and other characteristics that make them different from those who do not go on to college’.”[6]

In today’s ephemeral job market, where it is normal to have more jobs in the first three years out of college than our grandparents did during their entire lifetimes, the ability to tackle a wide array of problems, projects and proposals is priceless. Without a college degree, a person could still gain some of these skills, but a defining feature of a four-year degree is a steady stream of classes, experiential learning opportunities like internships or research and interpersonal interactions that uniquely prepare a student for a diverse working world. These are often posited as “soft” skills, yet it is these attributes gained on campus that are often what set one applicant apart from another, making a college degree an integral part of the job acquisition — and retention — process.

The world is changing at a rapid pace. While it isn’t entirely possible to know everything that will occur in the future, colleges and universities in Northwest Indiana — and across the country — are working diligently to prepare our students for what is to come. A college education is not the only path, but it is the strongest proven path toward financial stability, job retention and career malleability — and there is no way to put a price tag on that.

[1] Michael Lawrence Collins, “Opinion: Is college worth it? Students can learn to calculate the payoff”, The Hechinger Report, 2018.

[2] Philip Trostel, “Beyond the College Earnings Premium. Way Beyond.”, Chronicle of Higher education, 2017.

[3] Karen Harris, Austin Kimson, Andrew Schwedel, “Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and

Inequality”, Bain & Company, Inc., 2018.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Christopher R. Huber and Nathan R. Kuncel, “Does College Teach Critical Thinking? A Meta-Analysis”, Review of

Educational Research, 2016.

[6] Katherine Peralta, “Benefits of College Still Outweigh Costs, Fed Study Says”, U.S. News and World Report, 2014.