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Is University Education Still Worth It?

Two Pew Research Center surveys conducted in the U.S.A. in March 2011 indicate that almost 57% of Americans now believe that university education no longer provides “good value” for the money that students and their sponsors expend. The preceding statement may discourage any 18-year-old, right out of high school, who is determined to go to college – but here is the good news: a whopping 86% of college graduates who completed 120 credits for a bachelor’s degree believe that their educational investments were worth the money spent. In fact, these same college graduates believe that, because of their college and university degrees, they make about $20,000.00 more per year than their counterparts with only a high school education. And recent U.S. Census Bureau data corroborate the $20,000.00 difference in the median incomes of college-educated and high school-educated citizens, so higher education has its pecuniary benefits.

But college education provides so much more than an anticipated financial boon. Undoubtedly, a college education prepares an individual for tougher personal and intellectual challenges in life, which means that anyone lacking a college degree is unlikely to be offered certain opportunities in the workplace. Collaborating with people from different countries and cultures, a staple of a modern college campus, helps mold an individual for the challenges of a global community, which is getting smaller each day because of technological advances. Ghanaians are now enrolled in many universities around the globe, and these experiences will, undoubtedly, be vital to our wellbeing in a global economy, provided we harness the benefits. Unless we train our citizens to both compete with and learn from others in a very competitive world, we will remain trapped inside suffocating walls of mediocrity, never able to escape our self-inflicted “garrison” to bring prosperity to the ordinary Ghanaian.

There are instinctive qualities that guide some people to make good decisions – finding and selecting the right spouse, and choosing the right career, are two examples – but knowledge gained in the classroom is practical, irreplaceable, and enduring. The capacity to analyze and interpret statistical data, for example, has to be acquired in school – there is simply no other way for such knowledge to be properly imparted to a person. In fact, the Pew Research Center figures that I have shared in this article were obtained through a type of survey methodology that reduces the margin of error in data collection to acceptable standards, without which the assessment of the views of a few citizens, extrapolated to the rest of the population, will lack reliability and validity.

Perhaps, one of the most important reasons for a college education is the expert training that individuals receive in their chosen fields. A dearth of genuine experts in Ghana has been detrimental to the nation’s development over the years, with the available few overworked and underpaid. For example, sending a high school graduate to an economic summit for the world’s top economists looking to solve the world’s economic problems will not augur well for Ghana’s economy. Similarly, sending a high school graduate to a summit for seismologists looking to identify fault lines in the Accra region will serve no collective purpose for the citizenry. These two examples, in a nutshell, are metaphorical depictions of how poorly we have run the country since independence, with the country’s leaders never making education a priority as a matter of public policy.

College-educated citizens are generally more interested in politics, more politically savvy, and better informed about politicians and policies than high school-educated citizens, so a better educated population will demand and obtain greater accountability from the nation’s leaders. Even in the 21st century, Ghanaian politicians still take truckloads of farm equipment, bicycles and bags of rice to certain communities one week before a major election to “buy” votes, a sad reflection of where we are intellectually as a nation. Is this activity illegal? Unethical? Maybe the nation’s journalists can discuss it with the Ghanaian people on radio and television!

A college environment teaches young men and women how to manage time and effort directed at a singular goal: academic success. The capacity to stay in school for four uninterrupted years soon becomes an important asset in the work environment, where on-the-job learning and the need to commit long hours to an employer become indispensable. It comes as little surprise, therefore, when the statisticians who carried out the aforementioned Pew Research Center surveys tell us: 94% of parents expect that their children will eventually go to college, even if these parents dread the financial obligations associated with a college education.

For many years, Ghana had only three universities – University of Ghana, Legon; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi; and University of Cape Coast – but a few more were later established. Today, many universities – both public and private – adorn the country’s educational landscape, making university education accessible to many who would otherwise not have gained admission to the three “flagship universities.” That the Government of Ghana has allowed the founding of several private universities in the country to cater to the educational needs of the citizenry is very commendable, as long as these schools have met the rigorous accreditation standards and provided the meticulous curriculums befitting a noteworthy university.

In fact, most Ghanaians take great pride in the secondary schools from which they obtained their high school diplomas, but we quickly forget that the textbooks we used while secondary school students were written by college-educated people – Ghanaians and foreigners alike – who were able express their thoughts logically and succinctly. Have we ever wondered what would happen to Ghana’s economy if the nation suddenly stopped producing knowledgeable college graduates?

Formal education is a necessity, and obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree is vital for success in many of life’s pursuits. Interestingly, some of the Pew Research Center survey respondents say that a college degree teaches “work-related skills and knowledge,” while others indicate that it helps a “student grow personally and intellectually.” Both sets of respondents are right in their assessments. Encouraging our children to stay in school is unarguably one of the best gifts that we can offer them. Some penurious parents may not have the resources to send their children to the university, but there are other options these days, such as scholarships and grants. Even in Ghana, resource avenues include corporations and well-heeled private citizens who are willing to sponsor poor students. Communities can also come together to sponsor brilliant, but needy, students.

If the recent assessment by Mr. Stephen Adu, the Deputy Director of the Ghana Education Service, regarding Ghana’s dire educational situation does not alarm us, then I do not know what else will. According to Mr. Adu’s report, 64% of the nation’s pupils cannot read and write, yet this serious hydra-headed crisis that needs to be tackled from several fronts now before it becomes an irreversible calamity means very little to our politicians and policymakers. What exactly is wrong with us as a nation?

That some BECE students are unable to spell their names correctly on examination papers, according to the Ghana National Education Coalition, a body dedicated to the educational wellbeing of Ghanaian pupils, is a testament to the putridity of academic standards in the country. Echoing what Professor Anamuah-Mensah, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba, said in response to Mr. Stephen Adu’s regrettable report on education in Ghana, current university students ought to sacrifice some of their summer holidays each year to help pupils and high school students in their communities. Parents must also exhibit sustained devotion to the academic welfare of their children. We are facing a national crisis, and the sooner we jettison the drowning ambivalence and take swift action, the better it will be for our nation.

A concerted effort is needed to reverse the ever-falling standards at all educational levels. We cannot address university education if there are no qualified students to send to the nation’s universities. And without an educated society, we have little chance of competing with other nations, or improving conditions at home. Unless we take a stand against myopia and intellectual embolism, our politicians will slowly sink the ship of state, with all of us trapped in it and unable to escape. Ghana needs a radical change of course, and if the current crop of politicians will not superintend this effort, then we ought to replace them, via the ballot box, with those who have the wellbeing of the nation at heart. I am worried about Ghana’s future, and so should you, dear reader.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the same university. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

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