Entrance Torch 2


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.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently announced that 2017 was a record-breaking year for economic development, with commitments from companies across the country and around the world that plan to invest more than $7.04 billion in Indiana and create more than 30,000 new jobs in the state.[1] Combined with an unemployment rate lower than the national average (3.7 in Indiana compared to 4.1 nationally in November 2017[2]), this announcement shows opportunity for growth throughout the state.

However, the forecast is not as favorable for Northwest Indiana, where the unemployment rate sits above the national average at 4.4[3]. Of the largest expansion commitments represented in those projected 30,000 new jobs, a mere 500 are in Northwest Indiana. And, according to the 2016 census, 14.1 percent[4] of Indiana residents live in poverty, compared to the national average of 12.7 percent[5], with Lake County outpacing the state at 16.6 percent[6].

Where do we go from here? What ought Northwest Indiana do to evolve and grow economically and socially? As American captain of industry and business magnate Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” At Valparaiso University, we know this to be true. As a campus, we work to nurture dialogue across our differences and to overcome our political, religious, and cultural divisions so that we may work together to achieve a common goal.

During the Convocation service for our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, inspired by Dr. King’s belief that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’,” I said that, “it is by focusing on the needs of others that we will all begin to take measurable steps toward a peaceful and just society. When we seek ways to serve our neighbors, we acknowledge their dignity and their humanity. When we eliminate injustice within our sphere of influence, we chip away at prejudice and fear, the two barriers that so often separate us from one another. When we help those around us who cannot help themselves, we remind ourselves and others about the inherent value of all people.”

Northwest Indiana is evolving. Rather than focusing on our differences and the forces that seek to divide, we see more people across engaging in thoughtful and respectful dialogue across city and county lines. We see increased examples of communities across the Region working together toward common purpose.

Clearly, this is the beginning of an evolution and there is much more work to do, but we are beginning to harvest the fruits of pursuing a focused agenda of common purpose. It is by setting aside our own agendas and self-interests and coming together collectively that we will have the capacity to transform our economy, bringing job opportunities to the Region and attracting and keeping a more diverse range of employers and a talented and aligned  workforce.

From investments in our precious and unique shoreline to transportation initiatives that will strengthen our ties to Chicago, Northwest Indiana is working together like never before. The current initiative to implement a double-track and the West Lake extension of the South Shore commuter rail line will not only ease access to one of the world’s largest economies, it will serve as an impetus to grow and strengthen our local communities.

This is a critical example of how an evolving Northwest Indiana, one that leverages cooperation, grows trust, and builds confidence, can pave the pathway for greater accomplishments. We must continue to identify the ways in which we agree, advocate with a single voice, and work toward a collective purpose. If we can do this, our progress will be exponential.

[1] https://www.iedc.in.gov/news/details/2017/12/13/governor-announces-historic-year-for-jobs

[2] http://www.hoosierdata.in.gov/indicator/ind.aspx?indicator_id=4&indicator_geo=18000&indicator_style=full&indicator_mode=html

[3] http://www.hoosierdata.in.gov/profiles.asp?scope_choice=b&county_changer2=Regr%3A1&button1=Get+Profile&id=2&page_path=Area+Profiles&path_id=11&menu_level=smenu1&panel_number=1

[4] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/geo/chart/IN/IPE120216#viewtop

[5] https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-259.html

[6] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/lakecountyindiana,portercountyindiana,IN/IPE120216

A key contributor to the success of a city is its perceived quality of life. Places that set a high premium on improving quality of life become vibrant, attractive places to live, work, and relocate or invest. In Northwest Indiana, the relationships between universities and their communities help to build a diverse, prosperous, and sustainable region. The city of Valparaiso and Valparaiso University are inextricably linked and inter-dependent — from the collaborative work between city and University, to the dollars and cents of economic impact, to servant leadership, together we work to foster a relationship that has endured for nearly 160 years and will continue to do so for generations to come. This connection is one that serves to improve the quality of life in Northwest Indiana overall, as the symbiotic relationship between university and city contributes to a shared vision for the Region. The University’s contribution to both civic engagement and building the area’s cultural and community identity are key components of that partnership.

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is crucial to the success of the shared vision between the city of Valparaiso and Valparaiso University. Valparaiso University is more than just the city of Valparaiso’s largest employer, with more than 1,000 faculty and staff members who contribute to the local economy by shopping downtown, dining in our local restaurants, visiting local attractions, and paying state and local taxes. Valpo faculty and staff are also civic leaders who make connections and act as great facilitators between the “town and gown,” bringing people together and leveraging the expertise we have on campus. For many, community leadership — school boards, city government, civic organizations, places of worship — represent that place where passion meets purpose. For example, the dean of our College of Business, Jim Brodzinski, serves on the board of directors for Valparaiso Economic Development Corporation. John Bowker, a member of our IT department and the voice of Valpo Men’s Basketball, serves as a member of the City Council. Heath Carter, a professor in our history department, chairs the city’s human relations council.

The servant leadership of our faculty and staff serves as a model for our students, who begin to see what a life of civic service looks like — and Valpo students take note. They serve our local businesses as interns and in our schools as student teachers and tutors. Our students partner with United Way of Porter County for the annual Day of Caring. Adjacent to campus, the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center, hosts Café Manna, a weekly soup kitchen outreach ministry. Valpo students can often be found stocking cans and boxes in the kitchen or serving meals to community residents. Each year, Valpo students dedicate nearly 250,000 hours to community outreach and service-learning. Valpo alumni often return to the Valparaiso community, not just for events like Homecoming Weekend, but many alumni reside in the area and have even returned to work for their alma mater.

Community Identity and Enrichment

Valparaiso University is also a key contributor to opportunities for enrichment for members of the wider Valparaiso community. Each year, the Valparaiso University Center for the Arts offers more than 100 performances and exhibits each year. Our nationally renowned Chapel of the Resurrection holds concerts, worship services, and annual events like our Advent-Christmas Vespers, a favorite among Northwest Indiana community members. Valpo’s annual Jazz Fest and other music and arts celebrations unite campus and community through student, faculty, community, and high-end performances.

Our Division I Athletics program also has much to offer, as we host more than 100 home games each year across all sports — which is even more exciting this year as we have officially joined the Missouri Valley Conference, one of the NCAA’s most well respected mid-major conferences.

Valparaiso University also offers intellectual resources for the greater Valparaiso area, as the Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources stores 600,000 volumes and offers 180 public computers. This summer, Valpo’s campus hosted Lakeshore Public Media’s PBS Kids Star Party, celebrating National Summer Learning Day. And finally, throughout each year, Valpo hosts myriad speakers and leaders in their fields who provide lectures on a range of topics. These and other enrichment opportunities are always open to residents from the area.

From our students, faculty, and staff engaging in the community through membership on committees and local service and volunteer projects to the enrichment opportunities the University brings, since Valparaiso University’s founding in 1859, Northwest Indiana has benefited greatly from the strong relationship between “town and gown.” This cross-collaboration and mutual partnership is one that will only grow stronger as our communities continue to flourish.

It’s an election year, and lots of politicians are making promises. This cycle, we hear about “free” college for everyone. While it remains to be seen whether our state and our nation has the will or the resources to fulfill such an ambitious promise, this positive reception of this promise underscores an important issue facing students and parents in Indiana and across our nation—the affordability of a college education.

Each year, high school graduates, their families, and an increasing number of non-traditional students face the difficult choice whether to pursue an education beyond high school. This decision is especially challenging for students and families anxious at the thought of carrying financial debt. Students and families take into consideration their stagnant incomes, limited savings, and rising tuition costs balanced against the continually changing and increasingly globalized economy,  rapidly changing industry demands, domestic job security, and the significant earnings gap between those who hold a high school diploma and the significantly higher wages earned by those with the college degree.  The return on investment for higher education is proven, yet students and families remain risk averse in making that investment given the post-recession struggles that continue for some and the economic uncertainty of our times.

Here in Northwest Indiana, these questions and concerns are no different, as local community members struggle to balance the up-front cost of higher education and the unguaranteed, albeit historically positive, outcome for most graduates, both financially and vocationally. But while the published tuition rates on a national scale are alarmingly high — the highest in history — the great news for residents of Northwest Indiana is that the actual costs for private and public higher education is not only highly accessible and remarkably affordable, but it also yields an extremely high return on investment.

Up-Front Affordability

From associate degree-granting institutions like Ivy Tech Community College to bachelor-, master-, and doctoral-granting institutions like Valparaiso University, Indiana University, and Purdue University, Northwest Indiana offers a range of programs for those seeking a post-secondary degree, a career change, or career advancement, with ample financial assistance to help one discover her or his passion.

At Valparaiso University for example, 93 percent of undergraduate students receive more than $100 million in financial assistance annually, with committed alumni and friends who financially support students of promise and dedicated staff who work with students to secure institutional scholarships as well as apply for outside scholarships, grants, and loans. That makes the cost of a Valpo education competitive with public institutions, with extraordinary outcomes in graduation and employment rates. The additional benefits of living and studying on a faith-based college campus with students from across the nation and around the world offers an unparalleled, and yet affordable educational experience in our region. Various other regional institutions offer financial aid and support to help make higher education financially attainable, often in convenient ways that allow students to maintain employment and advance their educational goals.

Although financial aid does not often cover the entire cost of higher education, it plays a significant role in reducing post-degree debt and student-loan default. Valpo graduates, for example, find jobs after graduation that enable 97 percent of them to pay for their student loans without complications.

A High Return on Investment

While affordability merits significant concern for students and families, the return on investment should play just as — if not more — important of a role when considering higher education According to a recent report conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, Americans with four-year college degrees earned 98 percent more on average in 2013 than those without a degree. This number compares to 89 percent five years prior and 64 percent in the early 1980s.  The earnings gap between high school and college graduates is big and keeps growing.

Northwest Indiana natives are in an extraordinary position to benefit from this kind of return on investment. With our region changing rapidly as well as its close proximity and easy access to Chicago, there are more opportunities than ever before to secure high-paying jobs in enriching and exciting sectors, with local and regional institutions that provide market-demand degree programs that prepare graduates for these types of positions. From top-ranked business and engineering programs to market-demand health, trade, and other professional degree programs, natives of the region don’t need to look any further than their own backyard to benefit from the wide array of offerings and that high return on investment.


As tuition rates at higher education institutions across the country continue to increase and changes in the economy engender uncertainty for individuals and families alike, it is no wonder that college affordability remains of utmost concern to the average American. But given the current climate, the need for more talented and value-driven leaders in innovative fields, the amount of financial assistance available, and the statistical evidence that higher education is worth the investment, individuals living in Northwest Indiana — now more than ever — should consider pursuing higher education. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to check the facts—the lifetime of benefits far outweigh the costs.

Since 1859, when Valparaiso University — the Region’s oldest university — was founded, higher education has played a vital role in bolstering Northwest Indiana’s success and contributing to the region’s character and resiliency.

Over time, as our Region has developed a robust set of diverse institutions, with nearly 10 colleges and universities from private to public, granting associate’s, professional and doctoral degrees, residents of the Region have myriad educational resources and opportunities from which to benefit.

Offering programs in business, health care, engineering, liberal arts and many other fields, Northwest Indiana’s colleges and universities are well equipped to help individuals meet a wide variety of educational and occupational goals.

And these goals are achievable for a diverse population of students, both traditionally aged and nontraditional alike. Today, students are able to learn through a wide range of locally delivered daytime, evening, online and weekend programs.

In addition, all of Northwest Indiana’s higher education institutions — from the nationally ranked private college like Valparaiso University to Ivy Tech Community College — emphasize access to affordable education for all, including those who have been historically underrepresented in colleges and universities.

These affordable educational options allow individuals from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds greater potential for career advancement and increased wages, in turn, elevating the Region’s overall well-being and success.

While the direct benefits of quality education help shape both individual and the Region’s economic success, many indirect benefits also make a positive impact. For example, higher education institutions across the Region collectively employ thousands of highly sought faculty and staff from around the world. Consequently, these faculty and staff also contribute to the Region’s economy and help support our communities and schools through volunteer activities, charitable contributions, taxes and consumer spending.

In addition, these talented people bring a wealth of experiences with them, providing our communities with diverse perspectives and many learning opportunities outside of the classroom through university- and college-sponsored programs, lectures and panels, art exhibits, music and theater productions, and more. Valpo, in addition, brings the thrill of NCAA Division I sports to the Region, one of many activities that contribute to the quality of life in Northwest Indiana.

Our Region also benefits greatly from the collaboration and interconnectedness that exists between its colleges and universities. This is perhaps one of the most important benefits, as this collegial network promotes research and discussion that directly impacts the community.

From improving the Region’s beaches, creeks and streams to collaboration regarding community and race relations, the strong regional network intentionally brings people together to face some of the most pressing changes for the Region, the country and the world.

In addition to this collaboration, each college and university within the Region provides its own respective spaces and forums to foster moral and ethical behavior in public and corporate life and to bring community members together to encourage dialogue across difference.

With each passing year, higher education institutions bring increased benefits to Northwest Indiana. As we look to the future, colleges and universities will play an even greater role to attract employers, develop an educated workforce and contribute to the cultural fabric of our region.

Northwest Indiana’s future is filled with extraordinary potential, and the more we continue to leverage the inherent power in all of the Region’s colleges and universities, the brighter our future will be.

What is one to make of a liberal arts education these days? Presidential aspirant Marco Rubio proclaims that we need more welders and fewer philosophers — even though his claims that welders earn more than philosophers were quickly disproved. President Obama has publicly disparaged art history majors because their chances of earning more money after graduation than, say, an engineer, appear on the surface to be lower. In addition, policy makers and government resources have encouraged more students to pursue college majors in fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

With all of these voices and policies driving public thinking toward college outcomes linked to starting salaries and majors that appear to lead directly to jobs, why would college students need to take courses in history, philosophy, social sciences, and the arts? And of what benefit would a well-rounded education be to prospective employers these days?

At Valparaiso University, we are firmly committed to offering a well-rounded education that equips our graduates, who will become tomorrow’s leaders, with both practical experience in a wide range of majors from the professional and STEM fields and essential critical thinking and problem solving skills that are fostered through a rigorous liberal arts education.

After nearly a decade of tepid economic growth and increasing college costs, families are rightfully concerned about the return on investment that comes from a college education. The demand for graduates specializing in STEM and other professional fields never has been greater. However, the national push to steer young people into these areas of study, whether by policy makers or parents, must be tempered with the understanding than a successful 21st century education most focus on more than making a living. It must prepare students to make a life.

Making a life requires exposure to and engagement with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. It requires learning how to learn over and over again, how to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, how to communicate effectively across differences, how to work effectively with many different types of people. An education that allows one to make a life shows students the full range of human potential, human achievement and the many ways through which people have found and continue to find fulfillment and flourish. These are the hallmarks of an excellent liberal arts education.

And there are very practical reasons why liberal arts education is increasingly important and relevant for a student’s career advancement. A 2013 survey by the Association of American Colleges & Universities found more than 90 percent of employers believe the capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems — all vital components of a liberal arts curriculum — was more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.

Just as staggering is the overwhelming desire for new employees who demonstrate a firm grounding in ethical principles, intercultural awareness and the desire to make the pursuit of knowledge a lifelong endeavor. These virtues are deeply embedded within a liberal arts education, as well as in our ethos at Valpo. We expect and challenge our students to be people of integrity and character who discover what they are called to do in the world.

The qualities and virtues graduates gain through a liberal arts education are critically important to employers. Silicon Valley might never exhaust its demand for new workers versed in code, but the new employee who can relate the benefits of such creations helps the company advance far beyond the shores of the United States.

The same is true in medicine or civil engineering or the myriad other paths of study that eventually will yield new devices or practices to improve our lives: Students who learn to see and interact with the world in the broadest manner often will have the greatest insight to take new knowledge beyond the laboratory or factory floor.

History has been marked by great breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology, and humanity guides our use of them for the greatest good. An education firmly based in the humanities only can continue to bolster the world’s next generation of leaders’ propensity to understand and acknowledge the duty to share their talents with their neighbors.

The ancient Greeks shared countless new innovations with the developing world while the great philosophers Aristotle and Plato reminded them that growing as people was every bit as important. In the same way, the rapid growth of the Roman empire was tempered and eventually shaped by the teachings of Christian missionaries.

Notable advances in philosophy often stand alongside new strides in world history. There’s a reason for that; humans would not reach the level of innovation — and continue to reach higher — without the thousands of years of introspection that came before them.

Valparaiso University’s array of talented professors in the STEM fields work together with equally gifted colleagues in the humanities to help our students explore beyond textbooks. Knowledge of the absolutes of mathematics and other sciences is a laudable accomplishment, which only grows much greater when the student wielding it understands how this knowledge can help improve the lives of others.

While political rhetoric and college ratings based on jobs and starting salaries are appealing during protracted times of economic distress, experience has proven that the preponderance those who succeed and flourish over time credit their achievement to a well-rounded education that encouraged them to engage with a wide range of ideas and people, to think critically and enabled them to adapt to a changing world. A successful 21st Century education is a liberal arts education. And that’s why graduates of places like Valparaiso University succeed and flourish in careers all around the world.

Allegations of sexual assault and sex discrimination on college campuses is a serious issue, and several recent reports have garnered national media attention and raised the awareness of the general public. As a result, college campuses and the government have paid greater attention and taken a more thoughtful approach to the ways these sensitive issues are handled.

As Valparaiso University prepares women and men to lead and serve in society and throughout the world, it is our mission to ensure that our students earn an education in an environment that is safe, welcoming, and inclusive and that honors their freedom to pursue knowledge and truth without fear. Therefore, at Valpo, we take issues of sexual assault and sex discrimination very seriously, and we believe that colleges and universities across the nation and around the world should as well. When considering claims of sexual assault, there are certain steps that each institution should take in order to remain proactive, timely, and respectful throughout the process.

First, colleges and universities should have set policies and procedures in place to ensure that each case is met with diligence and equity. Without the proper systems and procedures, colleges and universities are left with unclear guidelines on how to begin handling claims of sexual assault.

Second, when a sexual assault claim is brought forth, it is the college or university’s duty to act promptly, confidentially, and with great care. As higher education institutions, we must do our part to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff as quickly as possible, while protecting the rights of the accused.

Third, throughout the review process, it is essential that each party has a thorough comprehension of her or his rights. The alleged victim’s privacy is paramount throughout the review process. For example, the alleged victim should not be required to share her or his story repeatedly, nor should s(he) have to confront or face the accused. These accommodations require great care and sensitivity.

And, finally, it is critical that each college and university take a proactive approach to providing preventative education and resources to ensure that each member of its community understands how to avoid potentially harmful situations, read the signs of a possible conflict, and take action when action is needed.

At Valpo, these resources and preventative tools have been in place for decades, and we will continue to update them in the future. In addition, we recently hired a full-time Title IX coordinator who assists with prevention and education and responds promptly and carefully to the relatively few sexual assault cases we experience annually. I encourage each college and university to take a similar approach.

Colleges and universities must hold themselves accountable and implement the highest standards to protect their students, faculty, and staff from sexual assaults, harassment, and discrimination. Government policy should aid and support our efforts to achieve these standards and provide us with guidance and best practices to help us obtain them. To create the best possible environment for both the alleged victim and the accused and to reduce incidents of sexual assault on our nation’s campuses, universities and government must work in tandem and with mutual respect toward common goals.

Sexual assault occurs at colleges and universities across the country at a rate lower than that of the general population, yet we must not tread lightly when claims are brought forth. It is important that colleges, universities, and government work together and share resources with one another to ensure that all of our students, faculty, and staff remain safe and free to pursue an education in a welcoming and supportive environment.

In August, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced it would allow more autonomy for colleges and universities regarding the ways in which they support student-athletes. This decision will likely engender changes to financial aid, cost-of-living stipends, and food allowances for those who participate in NCAA Division I athletics, particularly in the largest five conferences in the United States.

In the midst of this decision, former student-athletes at Northwestern University and UCLA have petitioned for compensation for their services as athletes and the use of their images. Therefore, the discussion over the role of college athletics and whether student-athletes should be paid is one that is timely and highly contentious.

At Valparaiso University, we take pride in our status as an NCAA Division I higher education institution, the only Division I institution in Northwest Indiana. As such, we stand with those who are opposed to the continuing professionalization of college athletes and urge other institutions to join us. At Valpo, we hold firmly to the collegiate model of athletics, and we uphold the spirit of amateur sports and the role that participation in athletics can play in enriching the educational experience for all.

The collegiate model is one that promotes education above all else. And under federal law, student athletes are not employees. Students attend college to receive an education, both in and out of the classroom, and college athletics plays a vital role in the educational experience for many, both student-athletes and non student- athletes alike. At Valparaiso University, we consider college athletics to be an activity that stands in support of the University’s mission to prepare students to lead and serve in both church and society; a co-curricular, values-based activity, rather than an income-generating venture.

College athletics promotes school spirit and unity, which allows students to take pride in and feel connected to the higher educational endeavor. They also provide one route for historically underrepresented individuals to receive an education at an affordable cost. Therefore, it is important that we protect and preserve the resources that ensure these opportunities.

In addition, students who participate as student-athletes glean critical life lessons they will apply as leaders in their professions and communities. Student-athletes learn valuable, practical skills such as sportsmanship, time management, verbal communication with adults and peers, and interaction and coordination in diverse groups. Their athletic endeavors enrich and augment the education they receive inside the classroom.

Because of these crucial life lessons, college athletes have added potential to become highly successful after graduation. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently reported that more than half of the top female executives throughout the world are former college athletes, and three out of every four say that previous athletes make better professionals.

If student-athletes become compensated university employees, their fundamental relationship with the university will shift, and their role as students will be diminished. Consequently, this will provide a disservice to them and their ability to advance as leaders in their post-college careers.

As higher education institutions, we should make certain that each and every one of our students receives the best possible education so that they are prepared for life after college. The very best way to support our student-athletes is to keep them healthy, provide them educational tools and resources, protect their time on and off the court, and ensure that they receive the most exceptional education we can offer.

At Valparaiso University, our Athletics mission to prepare students to lead and serve through exceptional experiences in athletics stands in support of the University’s overall mission. This mission is supported by the core values of student well-being, character and integrity, stewardship, and respect. We are proud members of the Horizon League, a group of universities committed to the league’s core values, which show unswerving support for student-athletes’ intellectual, physical, and emotional development while simultaneously valuing and nurturing fiscal and physical resources. It is our duty as higher education leaders of individual institutions and like-minded conferences to hold steadfast to these values. Doing otherwise would threaten the relationship between education and athletics, which is meant to be a co-curricular, values-based endeavor.

The Lake Michigan shoreline is one of our greatest natural assets in Northwest Indiana and a defining characteristic of the region. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park attract three million visitors each year and offer opportunities to swim, hike, bird-watch and study the region’s unique ecosystem. Northwest Indiana has a busy industrial district, home to major steel mills and the largest oil refinery in the Midwest, which continues to play a significant role in our economy, as well as the region’s environmental health. Therefore, it is imperative that we, as engaged citizens of Northwest Indiana, achieve a cleaner, safer, richer environment and a sustainable balance between nature and industry.

To focus energies and continue to improve quality of life in our area, One Region publishes a quadrennial Quality of Life Indicators report. The 2012 report analyzes 10 key markers of the quality of life in Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties. An update of indicators from 2000, 2004 and 2008, this report presents and analyzes vital trends indicating the health and vitality of Northwest Indiana.

One Region aspires for Northwest Indiana to be a region that supports stewardship of our unique natural environment to ensure the health and well-being of current and future generations. The 2012 Quality of Life Indicators report concludes that the current environmental outlook for Northwest Indiana is stable. This is good news.

Collectively, we have made great strides since the initial 2000 report to restore, maintain and improve environmental quality, equity and compliance and to prevent further degradation.

However, we recognize that there is still much work to do as we recover from decades of industrial production and real estate development that increased both pollution levels and population density, affecting the quality of the region’s air, water and land. For example, between 2000 and 2010, an average of eight months per year were considered “good” air quality days, nearly four months were “moderate” and about two weeks were “unhealthy” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. More recently, the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report gave Lake County, Porter County and LaPorte County failing grades for high ozone days between 2010-2012. LaPorte County, however, received an A for short-term particle pollution, which shows some promise for the region’s environmental health. We must aim for higher air quality throughout our region.

Since 2010, Northwest Indiana has taken positive steps to improve the region’s water quality. In 2012 Lake Michigan beaches in Indiana ranked 25th out of 30 states, and the number of beach action days decreased from 28 percent in 2010 to 13 percent in 2012. Approximately 10 percent of the water quality tests conducted in the region showed bacterial levels that were higher than federal safety standards, a 3 percent decrease since 2010. Lake County continues to have the highest rates of tests exceeding the federal standard in the region. While water quality is still a concern in Northwest Indiana, particularly in Lake County, we are making progress.

As the region grows, increasing population density continues to exacerbate pollution levels. The 2010 United States Census shows that Northwest Indiana grew from 489 people per square mile in 2000 to 509 in 2010. Housing unit density grew as well, from 186 per square mile in 2000 to 213 in 2010.

This growth contributed in part to a 27 percent increase in the amount of solid waste produced, from 1.3 million tons in 2000 to 1.6 million tons in 2008. On average, the region produced 2.2 tons of solid waste per person in 2010, up from 1.8 tons in 2000. Northwest Indiana accounted for 12 percent of Indiana’s solid waste in 2000 and 14 percent in 2008. Increased attention to recycling can offset some of the effects of population density in our region.

There is hope for the future. We now see an increasing number of once-contaminated industrial sites redeveloped for other uses. The total number of Northwest Indiana sites being remediated through state environmental programs rose 21 percent, from 1,413 cases in 2005 to 1,743 cases in 2010. Additionally, ecological restoration efforts aim to restore natural ecosystems, wildlife and water flows. According to a 2006 report, “The Restoration Revolution in Northwest Indiana,” the region initiated 166 ecological restoration and natural conservation projects. Since then, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative secured more than $4.7 million in grant funding to restore natural ecosystems in the greater Calumet region.

For the region to continue this forward momentum and be more careful stewards of our environment, we ought to further pursue the use of alternative energy resources. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Indiana is the third-fastest growing state in wind energy capacity, ranking 11th in the nation, and increased its wind capacity tenfold from 2009 to 2010. In addition, Indiana’s Solar Thermal Grant program has helped fund more than a dozen solar projects throughout the state.

At Valparaiso University, our undergraduate students and faculty are part of the region’s alternative energy transformation. Our university now conducts cutting-edge solar research at the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility, which houses one of five solar furnaces at United States research facilities and the only one at an undergraduate institution. Last year Valpo secured $2.3 million in funding from the Department of Energy along with a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to research renewable energy possibilities in energy-intensive manufacturing.

Leaders in the private and public sectors as well as concerned citizens have certainly made improvements in the past decade, but there is more work ahead of us. Governments, universities, nonprofits, community members, and businesses must come together to gain a mutual understanding of our environmental responsibilities and set an agenda for action. As we seek to ensure the health and well-being of current and future generations, we must educate citizens on what each of us can do to improve air and water quality and reduce our carbon footprint. A collective vision for a more sustainable Northwest Indiana and a shared plan for individual and community action will enable us to properly steward the region’s extraordinary environmental resources and preserve them for our children and grandchildren.