Column: Start saving now — college is worth investment

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As a college president and someone who has spent most of his career in higher education, I am regularly asked two questions: “Is attending a liberal arts college like Whitman worth the cost?” and “When should parents start planning for their child’s college education?”

My answers are always the same: “Yes, the benefits of an education in the liberal arts and sciences are immense.” and “You should begin planning as soon as possible.”

While critics of higher education question whether a liberal arts and sciences degree is worth the price, I firmly believe it is a proven investment, one that leads to better job opportunities and higher lifetime earnings.

In a college like Whitman or others that offer degrees in the liberal arts, students develop skills in communicating effectively, working collaboratively, discerning good information from bad and analyzing problems from multiple perspectives. These skills are precisely the skills most employers seek.

As one graduate recently stated: “I learned how to ask questions instead of simply answer them.”

Why are skills in asking and analyzing questions particularly important?

In this era of unlimited access to information, the capacity to discern good ideas from flimsy ones and truth from rumor or innuendo is critical. Every citizen should be capable of assessing sources that provide objective information, the media outlets that report events accurately and fully, and which public figures or elected officials convey facts and perspectives honestly and completely.

Unless we as citizens ask questions about why some stories are covered and others not we won’t have a full and accurate understanding of the events in our communities or the priorities of our leaders.

As parents, how do we spark an interest in college among our children? Expose our children to a college environment?

Fortunately, Walla Walla is home to three strong institutions of higher education: Whitman College, Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College. I encourage you to walk around our campus with your children, attend our many public events, and take advantage of the programs we offer that enable your sons and daughters to experience what life at college might be like.

One such experience at Whitman is our WISE program (Whitman Institute for Scholastic Enrichment), which aims to introduce local middle school students nominated by their teachers to ignite their interest in pursuing a college education.

Students participating in WISE stay on campus for three days with two overnights in a supervised college residence hall. They attend classes taught by Whitman professors and college prep workshops, and interact with current Whitman students who act as Resident Assistants and mentors, leading various activities such as art projects and college panels.

The program even includes a workshop for parents, providing guidance for financial aid, academic choices at the high school level and addressing other concerns about preparing for college.

This year’s WISE program takes place today through Tuesday, and though not all of these students will end up at Whitman College, we are excited to present Whitman as one of many options for our community’s local students on behalf of all institutions of higher education.

The program is free-of-charge.

All three colleges in the Walla Walla Valley take pride in welcoming local high school graduates to our campuses. This fall, Whitman will welcome 10 students from our local community: Kaileah Akker, Richard Brown, Anna Burgess, Kendall Dunovant, Joshua Grissom, Kallan McClure, Alan Mendoza, Sara Staven, Lexi Sturm and Kendra Winchester.

We are excited the educational path of these students led them to Whitman, and I’m confident their college planning started before high school.

Like all college students, our 10 local students will be intellectually challenged by the work they complete and the ideas they study.

They will develop skills in thinking and rethinking, in abandoning many of their preconceptions, develop the capacity to reason through complex problems in their fields of study and, perhaps most importantly, “ask questions instead of simply answer them.”

George Bridges is president of Whitman College.

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