Labor Day is an especially appropriate time to discuss the economic impact that higher education has in shaping the workplace.
Numbers show that a college degree pays dividends. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the median college educated worker earns 84 percent more than the median worker with a high school education. Even those with just some college and no degree or an associate’s degree earn 16 percent more. College educated workers are also much more likely to be in the labor force.
As a university president for more than 20 years, at two institutions in Ohio, I have witnessed many trends and initiatives designed to offer students the best college experience. At Ohio Northern University, we have adopted an emphasis on high-impact practices. In part, this approach bridges the classroom with the workplace while helping students develop critical-thinking skills to prepare them for future success. I feel it provides a blend of theory and practice that makes higher education especially relevant.
An important element of this type of educational approach is experiential learning. We strive to offer students internships, co-op experiences and other real-life opportunities that allow them to apply classroom learning to practical situations. This connects the classroom with the workplace so that coursework is more meaningful and students gain experiences that deepen what they learn in the classrooms and laboratories on campus.
High-impact practices help to develop graduates who are poised for success and able to shape the future of their various professions. It is essential that college students develop the critical-thinking skills that allow them to thrive in an ever-changing marketplace. Beyond technical competence, college graduates must be able to think on their feet, adjust to new circumstances, and act ethically. This is where the liberal arts and professional studies intersect.
These critical-thinking skills are honed through exposure to a range of courses and experiences throughout a student’s career. College students should be engaged learners. Many of the “soft” skills that pave the way for career advancement are fostered in extracurricular activities, student organizations and classes that, at first glance, may seem unrelated to a student’s academic track. For example, an engineer who develops communication skills is able to better articulate engineering concepts; and the English major who understands accounting principles can use that knowledge in her creative writing.
Although financial outcomes are neither the only nor even the most important benefits of a higher education, area universities do offer an exceptional return on investment for many students. As one example, College Factual has ranked Ohio Northern first in the state of Ohio, first in the Great Lakes region and second in the nation in its 2016 “Best Colleges for the Money” rankings. Further, 93 percent of 2015 graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation and the Class of 2016 is on track to meet or exceed that rate.
This type of educational experience pays dividends in helping to make sure that the American workforce remains strong and prepared for the future.
Daniel DiBiasio has served as president of Ohio Northern since 2011. Previously, he was president of Wilmington College from 1995 to 2011.