Busting the myths: The undeniable value of higher education

Published 3:33 pm Monday, June 17, 2024

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U-T President

The perception of the value of higher education has been declining, and while there are clearly many areas to improve upon, there are many “myths” that just need busting. Here are just a few of the most common myths.

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Myth 1: No one is going to college anymore. Wrong.

Enrollment in four-year colleges across the state of Tennessee has increased by 2.5% in the last five years. At the University of Tennessee System during that same time period, enrollment has increased by almost 14%, from 52,000 students to 59,000. Our goal is to grow enrollment to 71,000 students by 2030!

Myth 2: All the job openings are for trade certificates, not for four-year degrees. Wrong.

During the last decade, the number of jobs that only require a high school diploma declined by 90,000! Jobs that require a technical certification increased by 49,000. The pundits are right: we do need more welders, mechatronics, etc. and those are great jobs. However, during the same time, demand for jobs requiring a four-year degree increased by 361,000 – more than seven times the number needing a certificate. We need all of the above, but clearly, we need to continue to produce even greater numbers of teachers, nurses, engineers, computer scientists, etc.

Myth 3: Tuition is increasing at a faster rate than inflation. Wrong.

During the last five years, tuition across all the UT campuses increased on average by 1%. UT Knoxville went four years with no tuition increase at all. During the last five years, inflation has increased from 1.4% in 2020 to 3.2% in 2024, an increase of 129%. Thus, a college degree costs less today than it did five years ago relative to inflation.

Myth 4: If you go to college, you will graduate with a mountain of debt. Wrong.

Across the UT System, 47% of all students graduate debt free. Of those that do graduate with debt, they average $26,000 in debt – down 4.4% from five years ago.

Myth 5: College is so expensive only the rich can afford to go. Wrong.

With the UT Promise scholarship program, families with a household income of $75,000 or less can go to any UT campus completely free of tuition and fees. This means that 66.7% of all Tennesseans can attend for free! In addition, each UT Promise scholarship recipient is matched with a volunteer mentor to help them be successful.

Myth 6: You can make as much, or more, money without a degree. Wrong.

On average, people who have earned a bachelor’s degree make $1.5 million more in their lifetime than someone with a high school diploma, and $1.1 million more than someone with an associate degree.

A college degree is an essential tool in helping prepare Tennesseans for the future. It is up to all of us to continue to “bust” these myths and remind our friends and families that a college degree is affordable, valuable and attainable. Supporting higher education is good for you and good for Tennessee.

(Randy Boyd serves as president of the University of Tennessee. The president is the chief executive officer of the statewide university system and oversees the operation of its campuses and institutes. The president is appointed by the UT Board of Trustees and is accountable to the University’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and the public).