The Value of an Education


COLLEGE PARK. — College Park.-- Recently I did some research on the economics of the University of Maryland from a student's perspective. An undergraduate who has studied full-time at College Park for four years as a state resident has spent $8,732 for mandatory tuition and fees, plus several thousand dollars more on books and perhaps a computer.

But while the student has spent about $11,000 on educational costs, the taxpayers of Maryland have invested $23,292 on his or her education -- $23,292, double what the student has paid out of pocket. Why do the citizens of Maryland think it is worth spending that much money on each one of the graduates at College Park?

Maryland is investing in their future as productive professionals. Hundreds of graduates are receiving degrees this spring in journalism, agriculture, human services, architecture, science and technology, and man- agement in public and private organizations. They are part of a national trend over the last 25 years in which students are choosing majors of increased specialization and vocational relevance. Our heritage as a land-grant university focuses on the practical implications of those college degrees; education is a strategic investment in human capital.

Notice that I focus on graduates as productive professionals, not on education leading merely to high-status jobs and big salaries. The average American will spend 90,000 hours on the job over his or her lifetime, but will spend five times that number -- 450,000 hours -- as a neighbor, a parent, a spouse, a voter.

The responsibilities of citizenship are increasingly complex. Take just one current issue, the environment.

How do you decide whether the state should restrict housing and other forms of development on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay? You need to know science to understand the effects of pollution on blue crabs. You need to know economics to understand the trade-offs between environmental protection and economic growth. You need to know history to understand how we got to this dilemma. You need to know political science to understand the dynamics of the legislative process. You need to know communications to understand how this issue is presented by the media. You need to know psychology to understand how people are likely to react. And you need to know philosophy to understand the ethics of the matter.

These issues explain why our faculty at College Park is concerned about the breadth of our students' education as well as their majors, why it is important that every student on this campus has some understanding of the broad range of knowledge about the physical world and the human condition.

Kathryn Mohrman is dean for undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland College Park. This article is taken from remarks she made at commencement ceremonies yesterday.

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