From its beginning, higher education has been about developing students for success in public life, in vocation and profession, and for a life well lived. In our current environment, however, leaders and faculty in higher education are being asked more direct questions by families and students: “Will my education investment pay off, and in what ways?” “Will I be able to get a job and will my education help me in my professional career and vocation?” We must show in concrete ways and through outcomes how our programs cultivate in students professional and technical competencies. At the same time, we must stay true to the more essential social good of higher education. We must continue to make the case for, and demonstrate how, higher education transforms lives, expands horizons, builds bridges of empathy and understanding, and fosters creativity and innovation.
Drury graduates know this transformational power first-hand. The qualities that such a transformation engenders in students is sometimes not clearly articulated. Even the best descriptions of this potent transformation can be a bit fuzzy. One of my favorite descriptions comes from New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks says a broad education that includes the rigorous study of the humanities, social science and the natural sciences helps students to recognize their own blind spots, enabling them to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and develops reason with clear critical and analytical thought. He describes the transformational quality of education in terms of confronting and overcoming our own “Big Shaggy.” We all have this “inner beast” or ego self, that drives the “yearnings and fears” in us all – the irrationality so often born of emotion, the fierce determination of competition, the temptations of power, and the endurance of hope. These are essential lessons because “if you’re dumb about (your own) Big Shaggy,” he said, “you’ll probably get eaten by it.”
Recent national conversations about the value of higher education have centered on career earnings. What is the return on investment? Here, we have a more a quantitative answer. Numerous studies have shown that people with a bachelor’s degree will earn on average about $1.2 million over the course of their career, or about twice as much than those with an associate degree or lower. And while STEM majors may earn more than humanities majors in the early stages of their career, salary data shows the humanities majors will catch up – and very often earn more over time because their ability to adapt to change and deal with ambiguity makes them well suited for management and leadership roles. Employers, according to a recent study, value written communication, problem-solving and the ability to work in a team as the most important skills. These soft skills are areas developed through one-on-one interaction with professors and by exploring a variety of subjects.
At Drury, we’ve long known the value of both professional and life learning. The popular perception that students must somehow choose between learning hard and soft skills in college is a false dichotomy – and a damaging narrative for higher education in our country. The newly launched Your Drury Fusion curriculum allows our students to explore both passion and profession in ways that prepare them for their lives and careers. It is a new way to experience the Drury tradition. It’s not just valuable, but powerful and extremely relevant for preparing today’s students to become productive citizens in a rapidly-changing, highly complex world.
All my best to you.
J. Timothy Cloyd