Columns & Commentary 0

Different Decade, Same Value

Much has been written recently about the value of a college education. Faced with ever-rising tuition costs, and the burdensome debt many college students incur, some have questioned whether a college education is “worth it” anymore. The cost of attending college has even surfaced as an issue in this year’s presidential contest.

For some young people, it’s like sitting in that little plastic car in the Game of Life, at the crossroads before deciding whether or not to go to college, or to go straight into business. Sometimes it makes sense to go to college. In other cases, a college degree may not be necessary.

So was it worth it to pursue a degree at Ball State? For me, the question is an unqualified “yes.” Perhaps not from a profit-and-loss, dollars-and-cents perspective, but in terms of satisfaction with the life that education provided – absolutely. My Ball State degree allowed me to have a career doing what I loved.

I transferred to Ball State in 1984, after studying for two years at Indiana-Purdue, Fort Wayne. Since elementary school, I always wanted to be a journalist. I loved newspapers, and I realized that in order to be a journalist, I needed a degree in journalism. Fortunately, Ball State – only a couple of hours away from home – offered one of the finest journalism programs in the country.

Those Ball State professors – Fred Woodress, especially – drilled me in the real-world basics of the profession. Accuracy matters. Ethics matter. Spelling counts – a lot. Knowing the AP Stylebook is the hallmark of professionalism. If you can’t get that right, what else have you gotten wrong?

It was Fred Woodress who taught me the essence of a good lead: Tell the story in the first five words. That’s hard, but it makes you think about what you’re really writing about. It’s a technique I’ve used throughout my career, and one that I’ve passed on to aspiring newswriters along the way.

Very few journalists make much money, especially in those first few years out of college. So after a number of years working in the newspaper industry, I decided to use another aspect of my college education: my commission as an officer in the U.S. Army, obtained through the ROTC program at Ball State. I had served as a reserve officer, then went full time with the Army Reserve in 1997. That career took me many places around the country and around the world.

As a public affairs officer, I combined the two professions I loved – journalism and service to my country as a commissioned officer. Neither would have been possible without my college education at Ball State.

Could I have made more money in a trade versus a profession? Most likely. Certainly a plumber, electrician or construction worker earned a higher income than I did as a reporter for several small newspapers in northern Indiana.

But life is not a balance sheet. Toiling away in a job I didn’t like would have made life unpleasant for me. Young people standing at that crossroads should not only consider the costs of college, but what makes them happy. Not everyone wants to be a doctor, lawyer, journalist or Army officer. But certain careers require qualifications.

And there are also the intangibles of the college experience. The friendships I made in Clevenger and Burkhart halls remain with me to this day.

I believe there is a strong need for trade and vocational training. For example, Ivy Tech Community College offers programs in such things as dental assisting, welding, automotive technology and accounting. These are all important and necessary skills for our society, but do not require a four-year degree.

The cost of a college education, however, continues to be a concern. Universities continue to add popular luxuries, tuition costs rise dramatically and students seem to be able to borrow as much as they want. Today’s graduates leave college with a debt load I never had. I can’t imagine being right out of college with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay. In a normal free market, the higher costs of college would preclude many from being able to attend. Colleges are able to spend freely because they money keeps rolling in. It’s a serious issue our society must address.

But for me, I can’t imagine my life without my Ball State education. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

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