Cost/benefit: what is the "value" of a Reed education?
The question we inevitably arrive at is this: "Is a Reed education worth it?"
I'm sure you are familiar with the charts showing the income differential between college graduates and non-graduates. They may be a useful weapon in keeping a teenager focused, but they're fairly limited in measuring the value of a college like Reed. (It's just as likely that a Reedie will be motivated by doing esoteric research or going into the Peace Corps as by making a lot of money.) Even such quality measures as student/ faculty ratio, per-student library holdings, and percentage of Ph.D.s on the faculty don't communicate the essence of a Reed education. What makes Reed worth its price?
One could argue that Reed's doggedly traditional curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences, an internationally respected faculty, Hum 110, and the culminating senior thesis are tangible components and evidence of the value of a Reed education. Other tangibles are results: Reed ranks second in the nation among all institutions of higher learning in the production of future Ph.D.s; 65 percent of alumni hold advanced degrees; and nearly 10 percent of Reed alumni have been or currently are CEOs or presidents of private companies.
But attempts to quantify the value of a Reed education are, ultimately, doomed. We're talking about an intangible here, a reputation. Image has a foundation in reality, of course: at a college like Reed you study with smart people, and the high tuition you pay goes back into making the college even better. But at the risk of oversimplification, colleges have two jobs: to make you smarter, and to certify that you are smarter.
One way to measure the value of a college education is to ask alumni how satisfied they are. Even this isn't a straightforward matter, however. If you want to ask alumni about the quality of their education, when do you do it? Right after the graduation ceremony? Ten years later? At age 80?
To me, the value of a Reed education is the intellectual agility it develops within you to move through life's changing circumstances. I believe you are truly educated when you stop worrying about the facts you learned in college and have forgotten and take comfort in knowing you have developed the tools you need to confront change. I believe that this is an important outcome of a Reed experience.
The issues surrounding college costs and the value of a college education are ones that aren't going to go away or going to be answered easily. They are ones we will each have to answer for ourselves and our families. As my wife, Marsha, and I prepare to send our youngest off to college I know that it is an investment for her that we make gladly.
Larry D. Large has been Reed's executive vice president since 1995. Previously, he held positions as vice chancellor at the Oregon University System, vice president for public affairs and development at the University of Oregon, and as acting president and vice president for university relations at Willamette University. He also served as Reed's vice president for development and college relations from 1982 to 1987. Since 1988 he has taught a graduate course on financing higher education at the University of Oregon as an adjunct professor.