Education pays. Countless times in my life I have expressed gratitude for my education, both for the value of the “sheepskins” and for intrinsic worth or what I learned. My degrees opened many doors I would not have been able to knock on without the right degree. What I’ve learned in my public and college education has been a source of much more than just income.
A college-educated person will, on average, earn tens of thousands of dollars over one with a high school graduation, and the difference between a high-school dropout is even larger. A college graduate with the right degree can choose among many interesting careers. Income, benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, and good working conditions are almost a given in jobs calling for a college degree. In speaking of a college degree, I include many technical degrees available at our Utah Colleges of Applied Technology, located all over the state from Logan to St. George and Vernal to Tooele.
The liberal arts education I received exposed me to subjects I never would have run into otherwise. Our text in a political science class was written by professor Henry Kissinger. He was not yet famous. I was fascinated by his contrarian premise that nations act according to their geopolitical interests far more than their ideology. At that time world communism defined world affairs — in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Korea and many other places. I thought nations acted in accordance with whatever “ism” they happened to have. But as I have watched Putin muscle his way into Ukraine, his motivation is clearly not ideological but geopolitical. I have watched the “Kissinger Doctrine” be proven true, I believe.
Without college, Browning, Donne, Sassoon, Dryden and Wordsworth would have remained as obscure to me as Uranus. Classes in history, German literature, economics, religion, political science and business broadened my mind and my knowledge. The survey nature of a liberal arts program is to expose students to many topics so the student can discover or advance personal interests and also to find a career. I discovered some interests and aptitudes in college and law school, as well as some aversions. I understood economic policy intuitively; it was simple for me, while others struggled to understand it. However, when I hit micro-economics, or rather when micro-economics hit me, I quickly realized I am no economist.
I still read authors and books and pursue subjects professors first introduced me to in college. People outside Utah can’t ever pronounce “Weber” in Weber State College (now University) correctly, but that detracts nothing from the quality of Weber’s professors and classes I enjoyed in getting my degree.
As I watch my own children pursue wonderful, fulfilling opportunities open to them in large part because of their excellent educations, it underscores to me the priceless value of a good education.
But I mustn’t short-change my public school education. One example: In ninth grade, Mrs. Hyer had us read Eliot’s "Silas Marner." I have read it since a couple of times. It is a perfect novel. Its symmetry and style, compelling story, rich symbolism, delicious prose and depiction of natural justice put it in the first rank of novels. I think I have since read everything Eliot wrote, and she is to this day my favorite author.
My education in Utah’s public schools was free. My tuition at Weber was very modest, as it was at the University of Utah Law School. For that I am indebted to Utah’s taxpayers. I’m a lucky guy to have received the education I did.
I acknowledge that tuition has risen disproportionately compared to general inflation in the last decades, and students often have to borrow extensively to get their degree. Some degrees given today do not lead to employment opportunities. Still, a well-directed education is certainly one of the best ways to obtain both remunerative employment as well as a richly varied exposure to arts and sciences. It has served me and my family exceedingly well, and I’m grateful for it.
Greg Bell is the former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.