Student Voice

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May 29, 2024

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College gives students edge

April 5, 2007

Everyone has different reasons for enrolling in college and the importance of acquiring degrees to meet the expectations of prospective employers and society will have a direct impact on the future of academia.

“The college degree is one gateway to further opportunity,” Chancellor Don Betz said. “And in this age of globalization, a formal college education assists us in comprehending the dynamic changes underway worldwide which will impact our families, our occupations and our futures.”

More and more today, employers are looking for candidates with post-high school training, College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Brad Caskey said.

Caskey said liberal arts universities, like UW-River Falls, allow for graduates to be more flexible, making them more marketable to employers.

“People love that,” he said.

Along with the plentitude of doors that open in the job market, those who obtain at least a four-year degree can reap the economic rewards as well.

Caskey said a major reason people seek a higher education is the monetary advantage.

“There’s a demonstrable economic benefit to having a degree,” he said.

It is typical for someone with an associate or bachelor’s degree to acquire a higher-paying job than an individual with a high school degree and no other formal education.

“I’ve seen numbers ranging from $1.6 to $1.9 million dollar in additional lifetime earnings for people with college degrees versus people with only high school diplomas,” professor and Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Bob Baker said.

Senior Paul Erdmann agrees that most people seek a college education for the money.

“I think ... people pursue degrees to escape the lower middle class, although this doesn’t always pay off in the end, or right away,” he said.

Though money is a determining factor, Erdmann said he has realized that following a career path that is enjoyable is most important to him.

“I often think that if I would have stayed working in customer service, I would be making more than I am about to, if I even find a job. But I wouldn’t be happy,” he said. “For me it is about pursuing a dream and doing something I want to do and enjoy doing.”

Caskey made note of the changes in people’s views of education over many years. He said that when he graduated, a high school degree was considered adequate.

“The majority of my friends did not go to college,” he said.

Baker said in his high school people were on two different tracks. One track was for those preparing for college, while the other was for non-college bound students headed directly for the work force.

“In those days there was no stigma against the non-college track students,” he said. “Not going to college was perfectly acceptable.”

Betz said while a higher education was of importance then, college was not as standard as it is today.

“We considered a college education to be important, but not everyone went to college or completed the degree if they did attend,” he said.

Caskey said a middle school education was the highest education most people achieved 40 years prior to his high school experience, whereas today it is commonplace for the majority of high school graduates to enroll at a college upon completion of a high school degree to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

If the trend continues, Caskey said the requirements for education will continue to increase and more students be seeking master’s degrees in the future.

“It will be interesting to see how it plays out,” he said.

Erdmann said the cost of obtaining a degree may deter students from continuing their education.

“Something has to change with the cost of education,” he said.

Though future financial expectations may be one of the most obvious reasons, receiving a college education does not solely revolve around that goal.

“ ... The benefits of a college education and degree completion extend far beyond earning power to personal growth and development,” Betz said.

Junior Melissa Leiterman said that having a time in your life when you can learn and grow as a person is also an important aspect of enrolling in a university setting.

“It takes people away from home and puts them in new surroundings,” she said.

Aside from personal gain and experience, parental influence and support often plays a role in helping students decide to further their education.

“I think many people go to school because they don’t know what else to do, or their parents think it is a good idea,” Erdmann said.

Most parents understand what a college education may mean for their children’s futures or want them to experience something they never had the chance to experience themselves.

“My parents did not have the opportunity to attend college,” Betz said. “But they openly and consistently encouraged me to seek a college degree from the time I attended primary school.”

Leiterman said her parents, as dairy farmers, were insistent that she go to college since they never had the chance and also so she didn’t have to go through what they went through.

“It’s something I’m not going to regret,” she said.

For others, the importance of education is always present, regardless of when they choose to enter the college realm.

“I took several years off, saw part of the country and returned to school,” Erdmann said. “It was always my intent to go back, but sometimes life gets in the way ... I have always been interested in environmental issues, but to pursue a career in that field, it requires a degree.”

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