Despite the headlines, college is still necessary
You’ve heard it all before: New Hampshire has the lowest level of state support for higher education in the nation.Students in New Hampshire borrow more to go to school than students in any other state.Our costs for public colleges and community colleges are among the highest and our state grants are the lowest.While the unemployment rate in New Hampshire at 5.2 percent is certainly better than the national rate of 8.1 percent, the job market is still unstable for the most qualified and experienced candidates, much less a recent college student.And nationally, federal student loan interest rates are scheduled to double in July. Ugh.Despite the ominous headlines and politicking, research consistently shows that higher job satisfaction, greater employment opportunities and less risk of unemployment are stacked in favor of college grads. My colleagues and I know we’re on the right side of the argument about the value of higher education for the individual and society.Still, it is tough for anyone to hear these headlines constantly and not get caught up in the hysteria. Often the message results in overwhelmed families and outraged taxpayers. In all of this, we can lose sight of the powerful difference a college education makes in the life of the individual. In times like these, it takes something special to remind us.College Equals Opportunity (CEO) is a program of The NHHEAF Network Organizations. The premise of the program is that New Hampshire’s successful and service-oriented business leaders all started out as young adults with only self-belief, the support of mentors and a strong work ethic.Participating leaders espouse the importance of higher education in helping them to achieve their goals. Each contributes their time and funds to support the CEO Student Leadership Scholarships.Interviewing prospective scholarship recipients for CEO is among the great joys of my year. They remind us that the most important lessons are often life’s most basic. Work hard. Tell the truth. Appreciate what you have. Stay true to yourself. Do unto others.During each of the student interviews this year, we heard stories of resilience, personal growth, professional clarity and gratitude for the opportunity college has presented.Christine and Nathan each pursue their goals with grace and enthusiasm, despite losing a parent far too early in their young lives.Jay is an innovative and energetic entrepreneur who grew up in a North Country family challenged by the mill closings.Margo, a sweet, but apprehensive, student, had to face the reality that her goal of military service could not be realized, yet she found other ways to demonstrate her great respect and appreciation for soldiers and their families.Ginelle embodies her college’s motto of “transforming hearts and minds” through her service work in Africa, Appalachia and in the greater Nashua community.A vocal leader on and off the court, Michael is the men’s basketball captain at his campus and learned about resiliency and grace through his service work in college and through his participation in the “Wigs for Kids” cancer support program.While the realities of college costs, student indebtedness and needed state and federal support for college still loom in the background, I have seen motivated students with little to no financial support get creative and get working to make the most of their opportunities and embrace all a college education has to offer. For these students and the CEO business leaders, it was the opportunity for self-development, exposure to new ideas and diverse people and the platform to achieve their personal best that made college so important.So with renewed enthusiasm, we will spend our days sharing a message about the value of higher education for individuals to achieve personal, career and life goals, despite the headlines.Tara Payne is vice president for college planning and community engagement at The NHHEAF Network Organizations, Concord. Learn more about the College Equals Opportunity program at nhceo.biz.