Roaring criticisms of higher education accompanied March’s frigid winds that opened the month. First was an indictment of the value of a college education; next was a tawdry college admissions cheating scandal.
The latter of these criticisms is as likely to be relevant in the Sauk Valley as it would be to find a Hollywood starlet slopping hogs and birthing calves while strolling the red carpet at the Oscars.
Sauk Valley Community College has never and will never play any role in student cheating. I have turned down each and every request by the Hollywood elite and other jet-setters to give their children preferential treatment at Sauk. I would even turn away the spirit of the late Audrey Hepburn (my all-time favorite actress) if she pleaded for an academic favor: “Darling, at midnight, I’ll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper ... if you don’t give my child a special deal at Sauk.”
Of course, I have received no such requests, but the point is that even the most famous of the famous receive no attention more special than we give every student at Sauk. Integrity and fairness are core values at SVCC.
This month’s other criticism of higher education, unfortunately, bears more weight, even in the Sauk Valley.
Antony Davies and James Harrigan, in their editorial appearing in this newspaper on March 5, use the student debt crisis to question the value of college. While they acknowledge “a college education offers more than monetary value,” they contend “the monetary value accrues to the person holding the degree” and the best measures of “whether society should subsidize a student’s education ... are the wages employers are willing to pay the graduates.”
Yes, student college debt is a real issue, and Sauk Valley Community College takes seriously its responsibility to offer an affordable high-quality college education. Sauk’s $139 per-credit-hour tuition is less than half the tuition at most Illinois state universities, and Sauk graduates average $3,500 in debt compared to 5 times that amount for Illinois state university graduates.
Many Sauk graduates have no debt at all thanks to the college’s Foundation, which provides more than $180,000 annually in scholarships, as well as state and federal grants, local scholarships, and work study.
According to research conducted by the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University, Sauk is a great investment. A Sauk graduate can expect to earn $600,000 more over a 40-year career than a person without a college degree, providing a remarkable 20 percent annual return on the cost to earn the degree, including lost wages.
As compelling as these economic statistics are, even more compelling is the professional leverage a Sauk degree gives its graduates. During my recent visit with Laura Carbaugh’s senior English classes at Sterling High School, I emphasized to the students that a college degree puts them in control of their futures. While job openings are plentiful now, good-paying jobs with exciting career paths invariably require a college degree like Sauk’s 2-year technical degrees or 2-year transfer degrees.
More important, Sauk graduates are our neighbors and friends who provide an economic bedrock to our communities, who elevate our towns by embracing Sauk’s values of respecting the worth and dignity of all people, and who promote education by sharing Sauk’s vision of expanding access to higher education across the Sauk Valley region.
Even though March’s frigid winds have abated, criticism of higher education will remain ever-present and Sauk’s faculty and staff will retain their commitment to our mission of being dedicated to teaching and scholarship while engaging the community in lifelong learning, public service, and economic development.
Note to readers: Dave Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.