The Value of Higher Education: Benefitting Graduates, Advancing the Common Good

IU Bloomington Undergraduate Commencement
Indiana Memorial Stadium
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
May 9, 2015

Preserving Educational Values for The Benefit of The Individual and Society

Trustees, Executive Vice President and acting Provost Applegate, Ms. Steele, honored guests, colleagues, and members of the Class of 2015:

John Alfred Hannah was a colleague of Indiana University’s legendary 11th president, Herman B Wells. He helped transform Michigan State University into a nationally recognized research university, just as Wells did at here at Indiana University.

More than half a century ago, Hannah spoke about benefits of higher education for individuals and our society.

“We, who believe in the dignity of the human spirit,” Hannah said, “must preserve educational values for what they can do both for the individual as an individual and as a citizen of a free nation. We must …accept new opportunities to serve the American people,” he said, “to treat with respect and seriousness the demands they make upon us from time to time, and to resist with all our strength any pressure threatening to impair the essential integrity of (our) universities.”1

Today, the members of the Indiana University Class of 2015 graduate from a university that has, for nearly 200 years, continued to believe in the dignity of the human spirit and one that has, throughout its history, gladly accepted new opportunities to serve the people of this state and the nation by responding to society’s changing needs.

The Value of Higher Education

Today, as you become graduates of one of America’s greatest universities, there can be no question that, as John Alfred Hannah’s words suggest, the education you have received has benefitted each of you as individuals.

One of the most immediate values you will realize from your degree will result from the fact that a quality education leads to quality employment. 70 percent of the job openings that will occur over the next decade will require some postsecondary education.2 You will earn an average of $1 million more over the course of a lifetime than a person who holds only a high school degree.3

Higher education also contributes to advances that enhance the quality of life for all, and contributes to the prosperity and economic development of local communities, states, and the nation.

But there are also deeper and more profound values of higher education that may be less obvious.

In addition to providing a quality education that teaches intellectual and practical skills, universities also instill high ethical values and practices among students. For many of you, the education that you have gained here has been a liberal education—one that has been both wide-ranging and selectively deep. Such an education in the depth and breadth of human knowledge ranges from the classics in history and literature to the workings of modern government; from the rules of mathematics to the laws of physics; from world languages to international affairs.

As you have grappled with complex, relevant problems in all of these areas, you have gained new insight into the human condition. You have come to recognize the interconnectedness of all knowledge—and you have learned to apply scientific, quantitative, logical, and ethical frameworks as you evaluate information and issues.

Your education has enhanced your critical thinking and problem solving skills. It has instilled in you the desire to ask—and the capacity to seek answers to the deepest and most challenging questions—questions about globalization; about prosperity and poverty; and fundamental questions about right and wrong.

Public research universities, like Indiana University, also put great emphasis on a public mission that includes educating students for engaged, responsible citizenship and preparing them for public service. Political scientist Philip Converse went so far as to write “The educated citizen is attentive, knowledgeable and participatory and the uneducated citizen is (sometimes) not.”4 An educated citizenry also acts is a major force for social cohesion as its members work to foster inclusiveness, to increase civic participation, and to create opportunities for upward mobility for all citizens. An educated citizenry, then, is the glue that holds together civilized society.

Higher education also has an impact on how one uses one’s private resources for philanthropy. College graduates are more likely to be involved in community and professional organizations that offer a diversity of opportunities for philanthropy.

And public universities like Indiana University also have an obligation to change in response to society’s changing needs.

IU has done so in recent years by creating new schools and new degree programs to serve the needs of the state and nation and to provide our students with the most relevant educational opportunities possible so that they are positioned for success in today's global marketplace. Today’s ceremony is the first spring Commencement for graduates of IU's new Media School5 , and in the near future, our Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing hopes to award degrees in a new program in intelligent systems engineering, recently approved by our Trustees.

No matter what degree you have earned, you and your fellow graduates have benefitted from your education in countless ways, and are now the torchbearers, poised to respond to and help build our future.

Celebrating the Class of 2015

Your many achievements at Indiana University are testimony to the time you have invested and to all that you have learned.

You are among 19,344 students who are graduating from Indiana University campuses around the state over the next week.

Your class—the IU Bloomington class of 2015—includes graduates from 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and from 80 different countries.

Our international graduates reflect Indiana University’s steadfast commitment to international engagement and they confirm again Indiana University's status as one of the world’s leading international universities.

A quarter of you have travelled around the world for your studies, and many of you have dedicated yourselves to civic engagement and public service at home and around the globe.

Our oldest graduate this weekend is 64, our youngest 19, and among this weekend’s graduates are 20 sets of twins.

This extraordinarily accomplished class includes winners of some of this nation’s most competitive and prestigious scholarships—Wells Scholars, a Mitchell Scholar, a Truman Scholar, and three Goldwater Scholars.

Your class includes members of the Indiana University Ethics Bowl team, who, earlier this year, reached the final four in the national intercollegiate competition and received an award for exemplifying the competition’s core values of respect and civility.

Other members of the Class of 2015 have helped fellow students make more informed financial decisions during and after college by serving as financial literacy mentors in IU’s MoneySmarts program, which was praised in the media just this week as one of five “genius” ideas to help students manage their money.

Still other members of your class have worked to increase awareness of immigrant rights; led campus efforts to prevent sexual assault and to encourage bystander intervention; and worked to improve health care and further human rights in Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ghana.

Members of the Class of 2015 have already helped to raise awareness and funds to support the victims of last month’s devastating earthquake in Nepal. And you have raised record amounts—more than $3.2 million last fall alone—in support of Riley Hospital for Children through your participation in IU’s outstanding Dance Marathon, IU’s largest student philanthropic event and one of the largest events of its kind at any university.

The Class of 2015 also includes a student-athlete who was one of 17 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, awarded annually to college football’s top scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation. As he graduates today with a B.S. in Informatics with High Distinction, he exemplifies the commitment to academic excellence embodied by our Athletics program and by all of his fellow student-athletes who graduate today.

And we pledge to you and to all of our alumni that we will honor this great university by never pursuing athletic achievement at the expense of academic excellence.

Conclusion: "Advancing The Common Good"

In 1991, Congressman Lee Hamilton who represented southern Indiana in the United States House of Representatives for 34 years, who developed a well-deserved reputation as a consensus-builder, and who now serves of the faculty of IU’s School of Global and International Studies, spoke to graduates right here in Memorial Stadium.

He urged graduates to apply their knowledge and experience in the application of logical and ethical frameworks to “bring wisdom to human affairs.” His advice to, in his words, “worry less about what happens to ourselves and to the institutions we cherish, and more about how we advance the common good” is as relevant today as it was nearly a quarter of a century ago.

As graduates of Indiana University, you have been preparing for years to become the next generation to discover, to understand, to pursue what is right and good, and to apply all that you have learned.

Equipped with knowledge, armed with courage, and tempered by prudence, may you continue to strive to bring wisdom to human affairs, to toil for justice, and to advance the common good. May you carry on the traditions of excellence that have brought you to this moment. And may you work together to build a future ever brighter and more glorious than today.

Source Notes

  1. John A. Hannah, “Higher Education and the Nation,” address at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, delivered October, 1960, as in published in The Educational Record, Volume 42, January, 1961, (American Council on Education, 1961), 13-20.
  2. Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose, and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 2009.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Philip E. Converse, “Change in the American Electorate,” in Angus Campbell and Phillip Converse (ed.), The Human Meaning of Social Change, (Russell Sage Foundation, 1972), 324.
  5. The Media School’s first degrees were awarded in December 2014.