There is a lot of debate today as to whether going to college is
still worth the effort and investment … or is now a complete
waste of time and money.
For an accurate analysis, I believe the experience of college
life as well as participation in extracurricular activities must
be factored in along with the value of the classroom education
and degree obtained.
An article in my alumni magazine Rochester Review (8/17, p. 13)
“[For] students who spend 4 years at elite, residential
universities, what they learn from immersion in activities
outside of the classroom can be as important as what happens in
People who find college archaic, unnecessary, or indulgent may
laugh at this claim.
But for me, it was absolutely true.
When I went to the University of Rochester in the 1970s, I got
two educations for the price of one.
The first was my BS in chemical engineering.
This is what I paid tuition for and spent 4 years of study at the
University of Rochester (UR) to learn and earn.
And having a STEM (science, engineering, technology, math) degree
— and the knowledge one acquired to get it — was then, as it is
today, a good investment.
The second was the education I got as a writer.
I was both the editor of the monthly college literary magazine
and the features editor of the daily college newspaper.
When I entered the UR, I didn’t even know they had a campus
newspaper, much less a daily one.
Turns out, the paper was daily. Almost every other school in the
nation our size had a weekly paper if they had one at all.
This worked out for me because, as a result of the paper and the
magazine, I spent about 130 hours a semester writing stories and
articles for these publications.
Mark Ford, Malcom Gladwell, and others say that to become
competent at a skill, you have to do it for about 1,000 hours.
Because of my extra-curricular activities, by the time I
graduated UR in May 1979, I had more than a thousand hours of
And even though I was a chemical engineering major, and not an
English major, I had become — well, not a great writer — but a
With that skill plus my BS in engineering, I quickly and easily
landed multiple job offers in positions where the companies
wanted a writer with a good grasp of science and technology —
positions they told me they had real trouble filling.
So I took one, got hired as a staff marketing and technical
writer at Westinghouse, and my writing career began.
I also know that getting a STEM degree allowed my youngest son to
make six-figures immediately upon graduating college a couple of
So I understand that not everybody is a fan of or needs a college
But I wouldn’t universally knock it as it is so fashionable to do
One other thing….
When discussions of this nature pop up on Facebook, somebody
invariably says, “Become an entrepreneur — you will make so much
Maybe. But the reality is that the average small business owner
in the U.S. today has a respectable but nowhere near spectacular
A lot of people view living on campus as play time —
self-indulgence for spoiled rich kids.
For me, it was a maturing experience.
To pay for college, I took both students loans and a job washing
dishes in the school cafeteria for 15 hours a week.
The debt, the job, the magazine, the daily paper, and the rigors
of STEM study made me more mature than I was when I entered —
although granted, I was an immature teen.
So again, for me, it worked out, and I can’t knock it.
Though I understand why some people, when they see videos of
Spring Break in Mexico or Florida (neither of which I ever did),
think college kids are spoiled brats.