Value of an Undergraduate Education
Why do we value a liberal undergraduate education?
A truly liberal education is one that prepares us to live responsible, productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world. It is an education that fosters a well-grounded intellectual resilience, a disposition toward lifelong learning, and an acceptance of responsibility for the ethical consequences of our ideas and actions. Liberal education requires that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture, and society; that we master core skills of perception, analysis, and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth; that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and that we explore connections among formal learning, citizenship, and service to our communities.
We experience the benefits of liberal learning by pursuing intellectual work that is honest, challenging, and significant, and by preparing ourselves to use knowledge and power in responsible ways. Liberal learning is not confined to particular fields of study. What matters in liberal education is substantial content, rigorous methodology, and an active engagement with the societal, ethical, and practical implications of our learning. The spirit and value of liberal learning are equally relevant to all forms of higher education and to all students.
Because liberal learning aims to free us from the constraints of ignorance, sectarianism, and myopia, it prizes curiosity and seeks to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. By its nature, therefore, liberal learning is global and pluralistic. It embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, natural, and intellectual world. To acknowledge such diversity in all its forms is both an intellectual commitment and a social responsibility, for nothing less will equip us to understand our world and to pursue fruitful lives.
The ability to think, to learn, and to express oneself both rigorously and creatively, the capacity to understand ideas and issues in context, the commitment to live in society, and the yearning for truth are fundamental features of our humanity. In centering education upon these qualities, liberal learning is society’s best investment in our shared future.
Adopted by the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, October 1998
Investment Value of an Undergraduate Education
The more you learn, the more you typically earn. Lifetime earnings and rates of employment tend to increase with higher levels of educational attainment, making most investments in postsecondary education financially rewarding.
Annual incomes in Texas vary widely within the same level of education. (See Figure 1.3.) For example, 50 percent of bachelor’s-level full-time workers in Texas make between $36,800 to $84,000 a year, indicating that 25 percent make less than $36,800 and 25 percent make more than $84,000. Consequently, some workers with associate degrees are making more than those with bachelor’s degrees, while other bachelor’s-level graduates are making more than some master’s degree holders. Clearly, educational level is not the sole predictor of one’s income.
The income range also expands as the level of education increases. This suggests that workers with lower levels of education are more likely to be limited to occupations that offer less opportunity for financial growth, while workers with higher levels of education have a larger income window within which they can move. For example, incomes for first-year lawyers can range from $41,000 for public defenders to $160,000 for first-year associates in large, prestigious law firms in major cities (National Association for Law Placement, 2010). Therefore, not only do higher levels of education typically offer increased incomes, but they also allow for more variance in income.
TG Research and Analytical Services. Balancing Passion and Practicality: The Role of Debt and Major on Students’ Financial Outcomes. TG Publications, 2012.