Much of the news out of our nation’s colleges and universities has been less than encouraging of late, especially as it relates to the fortunes and experiences of undergraduates and would-be undergraduates. Enrollment is down, freshmen increasingly report feelings of alienation, and financial aid submissions have fallen sharply. The latter may signal a sustained erosion of college enrollment for years to come. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s final report on fall 2020 enrollment, higher education lost some 400,000 students in just one year.
Perhaps now would be a good time to remind students and parents of the many benefits of a college education. We all know that workers with college degrees generally fare better in the employment marketplace, and that degree attainment is associated with several desirable life outcomes, among them greater affluence and autonomy. College has much to offer beyond future financial and professional gains, however. In fact, more often than not the traditional undergraduate experience promotes emotional growth and well-being. (Virtual instruction and interaction, which have become pervasive postsecondary education realities over the last year, are altogether different, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Most college graduates leave school with invaluable emotional tools that will serve them both personally and professionally for the rest of their lives. These include emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and recognize the emotions of others; goal-setting; empathy; relationship-building; self-esteem; and boundary-setting.
Without their parents’ physical presence and guidance, college students must refine their interpersonal skills and interact with others, processes that foster confidence and a sense of independence. The latter in turn encourages accountability.
The social dynamic of campus life promotes self-awareness, helping students understand how their behavior affects others and make responsible decisions. A greater sense of self also lends itself to more suitable and fulfilling life choices throughout adulthood.
At the same time, college students must learn discipline, which fuels motivation. This is especially the case when students participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports and political advocacy.
Now, we all know and admire productive, well-adjusted adults who did not attend college. Moreover, I feel safe in saying that not all college graduates are paragons of emotional stability.
Nevertheless, the non-remunerative benefits of college are real and significant. In most cases, college inculcates problem-solving and emotional-management skills that are essential for navigating and prospering in our fast-changing world.
Parents and students: Do not let your despair over current circumstances sour your view of postsecondary education. In spite of everything that has happened over the last year, college still has much to recommend it.