The cover of Pacific magazine featured six successful alumni. Inside, the story asked a burning question: What is the value of a liberal arts degree in today’s world?
Eighteen years later, the same question resonates.
Tuition and student debt have gone up. Incomes have not consistently kept pace. On the heels of the Great Recession, there is a renewed emphasis on the need for tangible skills that turn into concrete jobs. And technology is constantly presenting new ways to learn and share information.
Why, then, should today’s young people incur the cost of a private college education somewhere like Pacific?
Some of the rhetoric in the popular media over the past few years implies that such an education may no longer have the value it once did. It is an important discussion, and recent research and analysis has clearly shown that even in hard times — perhaps especially in hard times — a strong education still pays off.
The return on investment for a bachelor’s degree is estimated at about 15 percent, and workers who hold a four-year degree can expect to earn about $1 million more in their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.
Data from the recent recession show that, even when faced with unemployment, those with a college degree were out of work for shorter periods and returned at higher salaries.
Beyond that, a rich education experience prepares students to be able to adapt to a rapidly changing work environment and even to chart entirely new career paths. A teacher can become an entrepreneur. An exercise science major can write a novel. A research scientist can become a college president.
Believing in the value, however, is not enough. There are fewer students graduating high school, their demographics are changing quickly, and many of them have real concerns about following the traditional educational model. Universities cannot do business as they have always done.
At Pacific University, we are in the midst of Imagine Pacific 2020, a process of envisioning what we want for the future of Pacific and simultaneously finding efficiencies that will allow us to make a Pacific education as affordable as possible. The process may sound mundane, but it is critical for higher education today to honestly ask whether it is doing everything it can to contain costs.
We have the potential to serve as leaders in this transformation while preserving the one-on-one faculty-student relationship that is the hallmark of the Pacific experience.
The core of who we are will always remain: a nurturing learning community where students develop close relationships and receive personal attention.
We are serious, however, about meeting the needs of the students of today and tomorrow. Through Imagine Pacific 2020, we will explore new ideas and models of delivery. We will set clear priorities for our growth and investment. And we will continue to find new ways to remain relevant, accessible and affordable to future generations of students.
Lesley M. Hallick, President