The big payoff

Commencement$$-2010-smPlease indulge my media relations persona for a moment as I talk about one reason I love working at a land-grant university with a focused mission on engineering, science and technology.

It’s because, even in this down economy for many college graduates, a lot of our new graduates are getting great starting salaries, and even multiple job offers. This is a great success story that resonates with a lot of people — especially parents of prospective students. And the news media, which cover this story with headlines like: Big Paychecks Still Obtainable for Some New Grads.

Of the 10 highest paying college degrees in the nation these days, our campus offers nine of them. And while we don’t offer the other one (industrial engineering) by name, our engineering management program is similar, and many grads from that discipline move into the same kinds of positions as industrial engineering majors.

I guess in a way I’m fortunate to work for such an institution during times like these. Engineering, IT and related fields are usually a safe bet in a down economy. Even so, we in the communications office sometimes philosophize about just how much we ought to crow about something so crass as starting salaries for our graduates. It’s not all about the money, is it?

This is what happens when you get liberal arts and journalism majors handling the PR and marketing for a university so focused on science, technology and measurable outcomes like starting salaries. (To make matters more difficult, one of us holds a minor in philosophy.) Some of us tend to side with one of the commenters on Seth Godin’s recent “higher ed meltdown” post (Seth Godin again!), who wrote:

The critical function of college education is to help students build a solid foundation of validated knowledge and to develop critical and analytical skills to identify the solid knowledge in the unevaluated mass of information that threatens to overwhelm us.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But those of us who work for land-grant universities have another, more pragmatic (even vocational) calling to prepare students for professional work.

Land-grant universities were created to train doctors, lawyers, agronomists, engineers to serve society in functional, pragmatic ways. To do that, of course they must have the critical and analytical skills the commenter quoted above insists is the critical function of higher education.

So, what is the big payoff of higher education? Is it the opportunity to start post-college life with a good job at a high salary? Is it a well trained critical mind? From my perspective, having the opportunity to do the work you love and to get paid well for it, while also being able to think critically, creatively and constructively, is the main thing. As our state’s governor, Jay Nixon, said in his commencement address to Missouri S&T graduates last weekend, our world needs philosophers as much as it needs physicists. And both should be able to make a living for their contributions to the greater good of society.

Photo: Missouri S&T May 2010 Commencement. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

5 thoughts on “The big payoff”

  1. It’s not that I don’t think education is important. It’s just that I didn’t really think my education is worth that much as I feel like I’ve learned so little from my university. Chances are only 10% of the graduates will truly end up in their chosen career according to their degree. I know this is true from where I came from. Even I am not entirely practicing my chosen field. I plan to change my career too.
    Often times, it’s all about luck.
    Sharing an interesting article on luck and its relation to success: http://sn.im/w6s38

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