While the national conversation on higher education has turned to questioning the value of college, the University of Missouri System president is touring the state with a counterargument.
“Unequivocally, there is no greater investment you can make than getting a college education,” UM System president Tim Wolfe told about 130 honors students at Hickman Mills Junior High School on Friday.
The Kansas City school was the 10th stop Wolfe has made since he began his “Show Me Value” tour nearly a year ago. He took his one-hour time slot to talk about how people with a college education have higher incomes, better health and a greater ability to land jobs.
A college graduate with a bachelor’s degree will make about $540 more a week on average than someone with only a high school diploma, Wolfe told the students.
“College graduates live nine years longer and are less likely to be unemployed.”
He said he fears some young people could get caught up in stories about college students graduating with heavy debt and limited job prospects and reconsider whether they should go to college at all.
“Sure, some graduate with crushing debt and can’t get a job, but that is the minority,” Wolfe said.
With the recession over and businesses starting to hire again, jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields are expected to increase 50 percent by 2020 — just about the time members of his audience would be ready for graduation and job hunting, Wolfe said.
“Don’t let finance be the hurdle that stops you from going to college,” Wolfe said. “It’s worth it.”
The federal government, states and universities have money for need-based scholarships, he said. Most students attending any of the University of Missouri campuses rely on some financial assistance.
Wolfe reached students with his own story of growing up in a Missouri home with parents who were educators and insisted he would go to college. But he said he was interested in football, girls and his work at a gas station, not college and studying.
What got Wolfe on track was his dad telling him that he might get into college, but his father wasn’t sure he’d ever graduate.
“That challenged me,” Wolfe said.
The UM System president said his visit was not about getting students to attend one of the four campuses in the UM System, but getting them to think about college in general.
“Today is about embracing your story,” he said. “Embracing who you are and finding the college that best suits you. It’s about finding out how you can make a footprint.”
Ninth-grader Vanessa Attawia, 14, was inspired.
“I had never hear that part about embracing your inner self and finding who you are before,” said Vanessa, who wants to study engineering. “I also liked what he said about choosing and not waiting, that now is the time.”
Eighth-grader Michael Ricketts, 13, liked hearing Wolfe’s personal story.
“I want to someday be a CEO. I suppose I will need college to do that,” Michael said. “His story gave me a new drive and made me want to go to college even more.”