Senior Anna Woronzoff reviews her acceptance letter from Gustavus Adolphus College. After the acceptance letters seniors still have to make the right decision. Woronzoff and0 many other seniors will soon be weighing the many factors of college, which include finances, heavily while making their final decisions.

College values

Molded, taught and indebted: Redefining the value of colleges in an age dominated by price tags

Consider this: would you rather be modeled or molded? Trained or taught? In debt or indebted to an institution that has provided you with all the tools necessary to be successful, responsible and thoughtful in a perpetually changing job market and world?

As college acceptance letters arrive, high school seniors must ask themselves what makes a college “valuable.”

This is no easy feat. For years, the Princeton Review, New York Times and other top-tier publications have tried to define value.

However, it’s difficult to weigh the value of personal growth and benefit against pure economics (the price in relation to the quality of an education).

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” While his wisdom is certainly meritorious, monetary value is the principal manner of assessing value for many students in 2013.

In August, Barack Obama addressed this type of value at the University of Buffalo.

“We’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities – you can get all of that on the existing rating systems,” said Obama. “What we want to do is rate them on who’s offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck.”

Similar to many schools, a facet of the culture at Minnehaha is the necessity of attending the “best” college, regardless of cost. This stems from the timeless notion that the “better” the undergrad school, someone attends, the “better” job they will get.

However, in today’s job market it is often more financially beneficial to get a degree from a cheaper, and perhaps less well-known, undergraduate institution than to attend a university which will leave graduates tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Part of college counselor Richard Harris’s job includes giving students the tools to make the most informed college decision possible.

“From my perspective I like to give information, and to let the student and the family decide ultimately what’s the right thing to do,” said Harris. “I think I would be wrong in saying that a student has to go to a highly selective school as the only means of success at the expense of 40 to 60 thousand dollars of college debt. My role is to take the student where they are right now and [transport] them five or six years from now and make sure they know what they’re doing.”

Since students often can’t begin paying off their college loans until after they graduate, many are taking the time now to consider how their college choice will affect their financial situation in the future.

“Originally I was looking for a college with a name, and once I started narrowing it down and looking where I thought I could get in, money became a huge issue,” said senior Anna Woronzoff. “I think it’s going to come down to where I can afford and where I’m going to get a good education for what I’m paying for.”

Every school’s financial aid policy is different; some colleges offer merit-based aid, while others do not. Similarly, every family’s situation differs.

Many Minnehaha households have a high enough total income that they barely miss the benchmark to qualify for financial aid, causing consideration of what price to pay for college.

Other families decide that they are willing to pay whatever price for the school that fits them best.

“[Money] isn’t really a factor because my parents [say], ‘We’ll try and support you wherever you want to go because that’s the most important thing,’” said senior Dane Birkeland. “You pay a little more for that brand name and that does play a [role] in getting a job. Also, you’re definitely paying for resource opportunities and a good experience.”

Regardless of personal situations, having an understanding of the financial implications of college is vital.

“My advice to a kid who doesn’t have the luxury [of paying for any school] is for them to weigh out what they really love doing and what their goals are, and then work backward,” said economics and philosophy teacher David Hoffner.

When considering colleges and career paths, it’s important to evaluate the potential repercussions of student loans.

“If that education debt is a mountain, and you got a medical degree out of it, totally worth it,” said Hoffner. “There is good debt, and there’s bad debt.”

With financial futures on the line, students need to be prudent with their college decisions.

However, often times high achievement at any college with reasonable academic standards will open doors for acceptance to highly selective graduate schools.

Though acceptance to a highly selective undergraduate program certainly indicates intelligence, it can be argued that a student’s success has more to do with their inherent qualities (i.e., personality, curiosity, drive to succeed) than the school they attend. This notion is supported by author Malcolm Gladwell, who compares Ivy League schools to modeling agencies (showcasing talented people more than making them talented).

“Penn, Penn State,” said Gladwell at a 2009 Hudson Union Society conference. “One’s Ivy League, one is a state school. There’s a very large pool of kids who get into both schools and choose to go to Penn State. What happens when you look at their salaries 10, 20, 30 years out? No difference. If you can get into one of these schools you’re the kind of person who’s going to succeed in the world. You’re an interesting, important, ambitious, intelligent, outgoing person. You don’t have to go to Penn to get those traits. You have those traits.”

College is right around the corner for seniors, who will soon make difficult decisions regarding their futures.

As students weigh their college choices, finances among the deciding factors, they need to consider if they will do what it takes to be successful and take advantage of opportunities to grow intellectually, personally and spiritually. They also have to ask, “How do I define a “valuable” school?” Yes, value can be defined numerically, but also by how college transforms them.

Regardless of their school, students can choose to make their college experience valuable and rest assured that if they do, they will be molded, taught and indebted to a school that changed their lives.


About Frances Hoekstra

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