Post-Graduate Success not Solely Based on Earnings

The irony hit me immediately.

Last Thursday, President Obama unveiled plans to rate and reward colleges and universities based on outcomes as measured by the earnings of their graduates.

And yet, just a few months ago, President Obama recognized Gettysburg College and four other higher education institutions as national models for our commitment to civic engagement and community service.

I’m having trouble reconciling these two instances. Where in President Obama’s plan for evaluating institutions of higher education is the role that a college or university plays in preparing students for community service, for lives of responsible citizenship?  Surely the President does not believe that the value of a person’s contribution to society can be measured by how much money he or she makes. 

At Gettysburg College, more than 70 percent of our students engage in community service. They provide tutoring and ESL lessons to migrant workers and their families, they help address the food gap in our community through innovative programs and services, and they support sustainable development projects abroad. While many of our students go on to lucrative careers, many of them also pursue careers in public service—they join the Peace Corps, they become educators, they work in nonprofits.  And we consider them to be successful.

Members of the Class of 2017 volunteer at Gettysburg's Campus Kitchens program during GIV Day.

Members of the Class of 2017 volunteer at Gettysburg’s Campus Kitchens program during GIV Day.

More than ever, our nation needs graduates who are passionate about education, eager to work in the non-profit sector, and engage in public service careers. Although these careers don’t necessarily yield high incomes, they are of great importance to our society and often quite fulfilling for those who choose them.  A system that rates our colleges and universities based upon graduate income is likely to dissuade institutions from encouraging students to take on these important roles.

Over the past few days, I have heard from some Gettysburg College alumni who question the President’s plan and the impact it could have. A recent graduate who is a high school math teacher said he was sorry if his modest salary might impact his alma mater’s rating in a negative way; however, he would never apologize for choosing to help students learn about math and about life.  In my eyes, this young graduate has found success, despite the fact that he is not earning a 6- or 7-figure salary.

We need more Americans who can think clearly and critically, who aren’t afraid to face society’s challenges, who can solve complex problems, work collaboratively, behave ethically, and fully embrace their role as responsible citizens of our communities, our nation, and our world. We need more graduates who are inspired to make this world a better place.

This blog is an excerpt from my op-ed in the August 27 issue of the Huffington Post. Read the full piece on their website.

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