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Five reasons to go to college (besides career advancement)

"In our discussions about education, so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life," said one reader.

Conventional wisdom says that, unless you’re an entrepreneurial genius, you need a college degree to land a well-paying job; yet, thanks to the slumping economy, even that’s not a guarantee.

An anti-college backlash recently has emerged from the confluence of soaring tuition rates, political forces, and a desire for more accountability in higher education—not to mention a tough economy that has many students rethinking the value of a college education.

But for those critics who say the debilitating effects of college loans just aren’t worth what you get in return, the issue begs the question: “Is a postsecondary education really just about finding a good job after graduation?”

We recently put this question to our readers, and an overwhelming number said “no”—a postsecondary education is an experience that provides a return on investment that includes much more than a paycheck.

Here are the top five reasons why college is about more than preparing for a good career, according to our readers. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

1. It teaches discipline.

Postsecondary education “teaches many other skills than those needed to find a job related to your major. [It] is where many people learn to independently discipline themselves; this skill can be applied to many other aspects of life than a career.” —Kara J. Lee, lead instructional technology facilitator, district webmaster, Duplin County Schools

2. It cultivates ingenuity and critical thinking.

“It’s not about preparing students for a job. It’s about creating citizens who design, create, support, and energize American ingenuity—ones who challenge mediocrity and rote mindless jobs just to make a profit for a few. NCLB dropped this nation into nothing more than a Trivial Pursuit labyrinth.” —Dr. Jan Jones, Educational Consulting Services, VIA Associates Inc.

“Getting an education is not just about finding a good job. I have always thought that a more important benefit of education is that it should teach you how to think critically. In a democratic society like the one we live in, you cannot be ignorant and survive. If you are ignorant, then you are subject to exploitation and manipulation. I am reminded of a line of one of the actors in the movie, The Great Debaters: ‘Education is the key to the light and the way out of darkness.’ Yes, education can open doors for you that might not otherwise have opened. However, learning how to think is equally important if you are to sustain yourself in a democratic and global society.” —Edward Owens, business instructor, North Houston Campus, Houston, Texas

3. It creates responsible citizens.

Postsecondary education “is not just about jobs. To me, very important reasons include educating to be a responsible citizen with regard to civic and environmental issues, as well as educating to be a broadly knowledgeable person; and finally, to address the need for, and to develop habits associated with, the critical responsibility to practice lifelong learning. These, in the long run, will be much more important to career/job success (and personal life fulfillment) than any [professional] skills.” —John Bennett, emeritus professor/associate dean, University of Connecticut

4. It opens students to personal discovery.

“In some respects, yes. In many others, no. Ultimately, our desire is to prepare our students for what is to come in their lives so that they have the knowledge, understanding, as well as critical thinking skills to meet challenges. [Postsecondary education] can still very well be a time for personal discovery. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses can put you steps above others. Utilizing your strengths to become more skilled at various things is extremely important. Once you learn a skill and hone it, no one can take it from you.” —Wendi Wallace, technology literacy, Howell Schools

5. It improves one’s quality of life.

“School shouldn’t just be about jobs, because life shouldn’t just be about work. Students should be good citizens, lovers of art and music, critical thinkers, intelligent voters, and cautious consumers. There are many life skills schools should focus on that don’t translate directly to the job market but to quality of life outside the workplace.” —Pam Krepel, Delta High School

“Do we need to help prepare our … students for work? Yes. Is that all we should do? Consider this: ‘It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education, so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is to be educated.’ —Edith Hamilton, educator and writer.” —Gail Madison, SELCO, Slaton ISD

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