Professor: Value Of College Extends Beyond Paycheck

June 11, 2011

NPR Staff

Many American families are asking whether sending their children to college is worth it if they end up in jobs that pay less than the cost of tuition.

Mike Rose, a professor of education at UCLA, says it makes complete sense for people to be concerned about the economic benefits of college.

"We respond to the threat that's most imminent, right?" Rose tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon.

But, he says, there are many other reasons to get a college education.

Rose, the author of Why School? and other books, cites the idea of intellectual growth — "not just learning things to make a living, but also learning things to enable you to do things with your life, to enable you to find interests and pursuits that may in some way or another expand the way we see things."

There are also social benefits, he says: learning to think together, learning to attack problems together, learning how to disagree.

"One of the great things about bringing so many people together in this common space," he says, "is that you're almost forced to have to deal with and encounter people who see the world in a very different way from your own, ways that you maybe never even thought of."

Rose points to the Jeffersonian ideal that having a functioning democracy requires having an educated citizenry. The concept may be difficult to appreciate when one is working as a barista, he says, but that might be exactly the time when a person should be thinking about it.

"You know, to be able to think about our economic situation in some kind of an analytical and sophisticated way is not something that comes easy," he says, "and I think it does come with study."

Rose says that if we preach only the economic payoff of education, we affect what and how we teach.

"It ends up affecting the way we define what it means to be educated," he says. "That's pretty important stuff to be thinking about in a free society."

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