An open letter to 2020 graduates; Start college now

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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TICUA President
As the high school Class of 2020 you’ve been dealt an unfair end to your senior year. No prom, no big graduation ceremony, and not many of the in-person celebrations that most graduating classes enjoy.
Now, you may also be concerned that you may continue to be short-changed if you start college this fall given the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
But you need to know that the 35 institutions which make up Tennessee’s Private Colleges and Universities Association are ready and committed to ensure that you will receive the high-quality education that you deserve.
There is little doubt that all colleges may look and feel a little different this fall as campuses work to guarantee the safety and well-being of all students, staff and faculty.
With in-person classes, there may be new rules about how far apart to sit in class or maybe even where you can hang out or walk around campus. And if there is another serious coronavirus outbreak, some instruction could shift online. But while these adjustments may be inconvenient, we hope most will be temporary.
You and your parents should consider the positive impact that college will have on your life and career over the long-term. There is little doubt the education, experiences, and relationships gained during these important years provide an enormous return on your investment.
The value of a four-year college degree has never been clearer than during this current pandemic. According to Federal Reserve, the April 2020 unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma is 17% whereas those with a four-year college degree is 8%.
Not only are degrees required for many of today’s highest-demand jobs, but also for the emerging jobs of the future. Those with college degrees tend to earn higher incomes and can better withstand the economic ravages of the current crisis.
So, if you’re thinking, “I may take a gap year and will just go back to college later when everything returns to normal,” please think again and don’t take the risk. This is no time to delay your dream of starting your college career.
Studies show you are much less likely to graduate with a degree if you don’t start college immediately after high school. In fact, a National Center for Education Statistics report found the likelihood of students enrolling in a four-year program declines by 30% among those who wait even a year after high school.
If you are worried that the quality of instruction may suffer if some classes are forced to move online, please know all classes at Tennessee’s private colleges and universities are being taught by highly qualified faculty members.
Whether it be online or in socially distant classrooms, these professors can still convey the depth of knowledge and breadth of experience that is needed to get the most out of your classes. You will still be able to engage with your peers, work together on projects, and consult the very best and brightest minds on campus.
Finally, be careful to not make your college going decision based solely on sticker price. There is much more support and funding available at Tennessee’s private colleges and universities than you might think. In fact, 94% of our first-time freshmen receive some form of financial aid. So, talk with the financial aid office at one of our schools to find out how they can help you get started. Remember that the quality of your college choice will play a key role in determining your future.
We know this pandemic is making some of the normal post-graduation choices dramatically harder. But some things remain the same. The value of a four-year college degree over the course of your lifetime is still one of the greatest investments you will ever make.
Again, congratulations on your high school graduation! We know this is the season to reflect and make choices. We wish you continued success as you embark on your next chapter. And we hope to see you on one of our local campuses this fall.
(Claude Pressnell is President of Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association)

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