In addressing the return on investment from a St. Thomas education in my last two columns, I have focused on the returns that accrue only in the form of higher lifetime earnings and greater job satisfaction. These are only part of the story. Higher education is not only about preparation for a career, it is about preparation for life. The goal of a Catholic, liberal arts education is educating the whole person, not just educating the future employee.
Parents send their children to St. Thomas hoping that they will learn skills and dispositions that are valued by employers. Yet that is not the extent of the aspirations parents hold for their children’s education. For example, they also expect that St. Thomas will return to them individuals who are intellectually, socially and spiritually more mature than the 18-year-olds whom they sent to us. To the extent that we are successful, and we are, this success represents an important return from a St. Thomas education.
At St. Thomas we achieve more than preparing our graduates for gainful and meaningful employment. When I talk with our alumni about their own St. Thomas experiences, they are appreciative that their educations have allowed them to earn a comfortable living doing important work; however, their gratitude extends much further. Invariably, they speak fondly of all of their curricular and extracurricular experiences at St. Thomas. In particular, they value the liberal arts curriculum that, along with the faculty, staff and fellow students, has helped to shape who they are today.
When alumni and friends use their time, talent and treasure to support our current students, they are hoping that our graduates will do more than make additions to the local and national economy through their future employment. They are hoping that our graduates will make important contributions to society as citizens, neighbors, civic leaders, parish leaders, volunteers and parents. To the extent that they are successful, and they are, this success represents an important return from a St. Thomas education.
So let’s continue to have discussions about the return on investment from higher education. I welcome that. But when we do, let’s remember how extensive those returns actually are, and let’s be certain to include all of those many returns in our discussions.
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