PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

The true value of an education

I was recently reflecting on my time at community college, specifically thinking about the vast number of people who begin their higher education journey and never finish it. Of all the people whom I befriended during my freshman year, not one of them finished school. All of them dropped out for one reason or another, never to return.

So I am forced to ask myself, “What is the reason that so many people drop out of school?” At the end of fall term, many students leave school, even here at Portland State. I find myself reflecting on the difficulties that I experienced here and my ability to overcome them. I ask myself why others thought that those difficulties were insurmountable.

When I talk to people who have dropped out or are thinking about dropping out, I hear the same stock excuses over and over: “This is just too hard.” “I’m not learning anything important.” “I’ve been working for years, is a degree really going to help me?” “My professors hate me. I’m not going to stay and put up with this abuse.” These concerns and complaints may be legitimate in the eyes of the afflicted student, but I’m also forced to question what the thought process is of someone who goes to school for one or two terms and then drops out without giving it a chance.

The earning of a college degree is of vast importance in our modern world. Completing a university education shows everyone that you have put in the time doing something that is hard, challenging and that you may not enjoy because in the end the rewards are worth it. That degree proves you did more than put in time. You studied for the exams and did the research and wrote the papers, as well as shuffled your schedule around, planned out the needed classes and did all the other hoop-jumping required to finish school.

So is it worth it? First it must be asked, what is the value of an education? Is it simply the degree? That piece of paper which says you completed the required coursework and now you are ready for the big leagues? Common wisdom says it is, so let’s look at why that wisdom is spot-on.

College degrees have worth because a regional accreditation service says the school which has granted said degrees has put their students through the rigors that are required to graduate. That’s a good thing. What if I could take out a loan for thousands of dollars, pay some random institution this money, and receive a college degree without ever taking a test, writing a paper or doing any research? Would this degree have value? Would I be able to confidently stand before a potential employer and state that I have the training to do the jobs and tasks that may be required of me?

Of course not.

Now what if I take out a loan for thousands of dollars, pay tuition at a regionally accredited school, do my work (including sitting for exams, writing papers and doing research) and receive my degree? How much better will it be for me to be able to stand in front of an employer and be truly confident that I have succeeded in earning—truly earning—a college degree?

Exponentially better.

Any potential university student needs to understand that college is a process that has a point and a purpose. There are times when the workload seems trying and the difficulties seem insurmountable. However, that is the point of our endeavors. We put ourselves through these challenges and we benefit greatly from them. Long after the classes are over, long after the last final has been completed, we benefit from this experience. We use this experience to our benefit for the rest of our lives.

I have given up before. I have quit mid stride and it took me years of poverty and struggle to understand the true value of an education. Now that I am back, I will do everything in my power to do whatever it takes to finish school and succeed, even beyond my time at PSU. An online acquaintance of mine once said, “Your classes aren’t the end of your education. They are just the structure to hang your education on.” She is right, and I hope that all students realize just what an incredible gift their education is and utilize it to its full potential.