(This article ran as a Letter to the Editor in the Terre Haute Tribune Star on September 21, 2022.)
Following the July 22 article citing the low numbers of male students enrolling in higher education, the cost of post-secondary credentials has become a national conversation. President Biden’s student loan forgiveness has generated both praise and criticism and highlighted the ultimate value of the university experience.
I have two degrees from Indiana State University, both of which immediately opened doors for gainful employment in my career, proving that the right college diploma has tremendous value.
The journalist Nellie Bly famously observed, “energy rightly applied can accomplish anything.”
One can work diligently at digging a ditch, but in the wrong place, one has made only a hole. For higher education to pay dividends in our lives, we must be working toward the right things. We must pursue skills and knowledge to help us build our lives, not leave us indebted and unsatisfied, if well read.
That requires information. Beyond a marketing campaign, young people need to see the value of degree programs in practical terms of their future income and career opportunities and they must see it early on.
The College Transparency Act (CTA) is one way to show that value. The CTA would create a data system, tracking student outcomes in income and career path across higher education and make that information available to the young people navigating an uncertain future. This legislation has been discussed by multiple Congresses, most recently as a near-amendment to the CHIPS Act that focuses on America’s competitiveness in superconductors and STEM talent.
While the CTA fell to the cutting room floor once again, it remains a viable option to make higher education more transparent. When students and families can confirm whether a degree justifies its cost, they can make informed decisions and avoid crippling debt.
I hope one day every high school student in Vigo County will graduate with enough college credits or industry credentials to be miles ahead in their first years as adults. What a future we would be building if those students were also confident in the value of their post-secondary choices.
While we wait on Washington, we can lead the state by partnering now with our higher education institutions to show K-12 graduates what higher ed means for them.
It starts with career exploration in elementary school, channeling more career and technical education funding into middle grades, and providing meaningful work-based learning opportunities in high school. Early exposure to high-demand, high-wage careers prepares students to pursue post-secondary programs and employment that make sense for them.
We will always do right by our students by telling them the truth. For many, the promise of higher education seems hollow, as evidenced by the dearth of young men entering college and the specter of college debt. It is time to prove its value. I know we can lead this effectively in Vigo County, and the rest of the nation can follow us once the CTA finally passes.