More than ever before, the value of a college degree is under intense scrutiny — especially from those who wonder if a degree is necessary to find a good job.
There is real economic value in a college degree. A recent study from Georgetown University found that, on average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with a high school education. Investing in a college degree delivers a 15 percent rate of return — more than double the average return on the stock market.
But beyond economic success, its most significant value is in improving the quality of graduates’ lives and the lives of those around them.
Education provides the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for graduates to pivot into new fields. Our University of Colorado President Mark Kennedy has been speaking across the state about the Fourth Industrial Revolution that could leave millions of less-skilled Americans unemployed. Research tells us that as many as 40 percent of today’s jobs could be lost to automation in 20 years.
On the other hand, these emerging technologies will create jobs and change those that still exist. A college education prepares our graduates to navigate these uncharted territories and transform them into opportunities.
It is important to recognize that a college degree is not just about creating individual economic value.
College education pays at an individual and a societal level.
Education widens your mind. It raises the quality of your life. Research shows us that those with college degrees are more likely to vote, more likely to have global awareness and more likely to be philanthropic. They are less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and lead healthier lifestyles. They volunteer at twice the rate of those with high school diplomas and are more likely to be civically engaged. They go out into their communities and make a difference.
When I speak about the power of education to transform lives and communities, I often share the story of Mike Fryt, a 1977 UCCS graduate with a successful career at FedEx as the senior vice president of global tax affairs. Mike grew up here in the region. His education, provided by our local public schools and UCCS, created countless opportunities for him and fueled his successful career.
Education opened doors for Mike — and through his determination and hard work, he committed to providing a similar opportunity for Colorado students. He created a scholarship endowment with a matching challenge that creates access to higher education for students coming — as he did — from middle-income families. His Bridge Forward scholarship opens doors for bright, talented students, many of whom will continue to live and work in Colorado Springs long after graduation.
This is just one story of many that illustrate how our college graduates give back to support education, our community and the communities they call home.
Education doesn’t just grant individual financial freedom. It gives graduates the tools to become powerful catalysts to transform their communities for the better — one day, one action, one person at a time.
Venkat Reddy has served as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs since 2017. A professor of finance and former dean of the College of Business, he has spent 28 years working for the success of UCCS and the Pikes Peak region.