We can make college affordable – if we prove it has social value

[Lizzie Camfield, a 2021 graduate of Sterling’s Wendell Berry Farming Program, practices draft animal power systems with North and Star, a young oxen team. Photo by Abigail Bobo.]

Everyone working in higher education knows that the growing problem of affordability has redefined how we talk about the value of a college degree. The transformative power of knowledge and curiosity that appears in almost every college mission statement disappears at the moment of asking for a return on investment from students, parents and donors. We present the average salary, employment rate and other metrics to support the argument that by spending money now, we will teach you the skills you need to make more money in the future.

One of the unspoken expectations contained in this verse is that your success will benefit us when you show appreciation for your education by making significant financial contributions to the organization in the future.

The general use of these metrics and the approach to philanthropy is a loss to our collective success. Not just as members of the higher education business but as residents of our communities, citizens of our countries and residents of our planet. Maintaining an approach where the solution is always “do more, create more”, we create a mindset that feeds an extract economy, fuels environmental degradation, normalizes human rights violations, enables to accept unsafe and unjust working conditions, income Increases inequality, the accumulation of wealth rapidly tends to favor the upper castes and undermines efforts to promote social good.

Over the past 20 years, Sterling College in Vermont – My Alma Mater – has emerged as an alternative to the higher education industry. Sterling’s goal is to use education to advance environmental thinking and action through affordable empirical learning that prepares people to become knowledgeable, skilled and responsible leaders in the communities in which they live. Such as College of Work, Where all students contribute to campus work regardless of financial needs, Sterling invites students and teachers to join the work, education and community through the lens of personal responsibility for the common good.

No one in Sterling just makes their way to Paycheck. Choosing a career as your graduate researcher, farmer, entrepreneur, wildlife biologist, educator, artist and non-profit leader reinforces their values. Their proven contributions, especially in areas not dealing with large salaries, have prompted donors to support Sterling, so we can provide affordable education to all students and send graduates around the world with below average or no student loans. Order immediately to engage in the work that the world is calling for.

Wetland Ecology students at Stirling College visit the Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge
[Wetland ecology students at Sterling College visit the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo courtesy of Sterling College.]

Sterling aspires to be free of education एक a goal that requires philanthropy. For this purpose, charitable gifts currently make up more than half of the college’s budget revenue. Yet unlike our peers in higher education, almost 0 percent of the money donated last year for operating support came from our immediate alumni. Alumni should not be construed as lacking the 10 percent help provided in the annual fund; The percentage of alumni giving to Sterling is higher than the national average. In the last comprehensive campaign, more than a third of all alumni contributed.

Sterling’s other donors, including foundations, NGOs and individuals, donate because they are committed to supporting the education needed to cope with the rapid crisis facing our social and natural communities. Sterling provides a compelling case for philanthropists and our goal is to invite partners who invest directly in the education of students to become dynamic changemakers.

In the process of presenting our case to support donors, we are frequently asked how we measure the impact our graduates have on the world. In 2019, Sterling tested its actual predictions through a survey of all bachelor degree diploma recipients.

National alumni surveys at the collegiate level typically get a response rate of 10 to 20 percent; Sterling heard from 75 percent of our graduates. In addition to questions about their student and postgraduate experience, the survey focused on their civic participation, community leadership roles, social justice commitment, communication skills, appreciation for the small community, how much passion Sterling experience inspired and why they feel their work is contributing to the great good.

Sterling graduates have a high degree of job satisfaction, with 75 percent working in their area of ​​interest. And 85 percent reported that they are satisfied with their work, even though they don’t usually get paid much, compared to only 51 percent of the national average.

Based on the statistics, we can confidently say that our graduates leave with more value for small and rural community, show high tendency for civic investment, live by example, identify as environmental steward and have deep interest in work which makes a difference where good work is needed. This was made possible by donors contributing to sterling as a means of investing in change. They understand that the world is in a better position to deal with environmental and social crises when deprived of Sterling alumni who can dedicate themselves to this important work because they do not bear the burden of student debt.

Economic growth, gross national product, profits, and personality capital business are not enough to prosper as a society. Every generation that has chosen Sterling has openly asked questions and evaluated what it means to live a full and productive life. They care deeply about the planet and the community they live in, and they seek more holistic solutions to success and happiness. When higher education acknowledges that these less tangible benefits of education are necessary and valuable, and adopts a way of funding education for students without burdening them with debt, the promise of a better future awaits all of us.

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