It's Worth It

A View From the Hill - Fall 2010

If you’ve been following stories about higher education in the press recently, you’ve doubtless seen at least a small number of articles questioning the “worth” of a college education. Some of these have focused on issues of cost and have speculated about the financial return on a college degree. Others have challenged the wisdom of seeking a degree that does not have immediate application to a specific post-graduate job track.

It won’t surprise you to know that I have doubts about both of these points of view. But, more than that, I don’t have to go any farther than this issue of Denison Magazine to illustrate those doubts. What is revealed in the individual stories by and about Denison people is exactly what we discovered in a randomized alumni survey that we conducted several years ago. In a nutshell, we asked graduates of five, fifteen and twenty-five years after graduation what they thought of their education in the liberal arts at Denison. We couldn’t have manufactured more telling results. Recent graduates often said, “My degree is serving me well, but I wish I had taken a couple of courses specifically related to the first job I’ve taken. It would have made my start easier.” But fifteen-year graduates said something like, “I could not have predicted where my career was going to take me. I’m so glad that at Denison I learned how to learn anew and to be resourceful.” And, more fascinating of all, twenty-five year graduates shared thoughts such as, “I never realized how much I gained from the music or French or history or religion or biology (you name it) courses I took in college. They have helped make me a more interesting and interested person, and I’ve so enjoyed how they’ve enriched my experience as I read and travel and engage in conversations with others.”

Of course, I’ve lumped a lot of responses together, but I haven’t distorted the overall theme of these responses. Overwhelmingly, graduates “got it” about liberal education as we present it in the classroom and through living and learning experiences on a residential campus. Denison does it darnedest to prepare its graduates for life, which includes preparations for livelihoods that are rarely predictable at age twenty-two and for fulfilled individuality that will last even after a career has closed. Denisonians are remarkable both for what they do with their lives but also for who they are.

As I said, you only need to read through the following pages to understand that. You’ll read about a filmwriter/director, a venture capitalist/environmentalist, an author, an actor, and a physician, all Denisonians. You’ll read about the special compassion of a Denison family and about a Denisonian who has used his success in business leadership to invest in support services for veterans with traumatic brain injuries. You’ll meet a recent graduate who’s had the rate experience of engagement as a Fellow of the National Center for the Presidency and Congress. And you’ll encounter graduates and current students alike with interests and passions that make Denison a vibrant place and Denisonians a fascinating family.

Few Denisonians I’ve met would either question the value of their college degree or doubt their education on “the Hill” has helped them become the people they are. You have so many stories to tell, and Denison Magazine can offer only a snapshot of them. Every day I see the care that Denisonians have for their college, and that care reveals in their conviction that an undergraduate education in the liberal arts is valuable for today’s young men and women–and tomorrow’s, too.

Published November 2010