Friday, May 10, 2013

Higher Education, or "Go For It"

Illustration of me by my brother.
I graduated from Brigham Young U this month, and tomorrow is my last day as a producer at BYU Radio. So my seven-year affiliation with the university has come to a close. I'm feeling nostalgic and retrospective, and I decided to write about it.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the value of higher education, and whether it's worth the increasingly high tuition and opportunity cost. Before I start talking about my experience (which, admittedly is not everyone's experience), I'd like to like to direct you to a recent article in The Atlantic. Matthew O'Brien makes a pretty compelling argument that although finding employment is no walk in the park for anyone, it's much harder for those who don't have a college degree. While jobs for college grads have been sluggishly growing since the worst point in the recession, jobs for those without a college degree have continued to decrease. That's grim.

But I'd like to argue that the monetary investment of an education pays off in ways that can't by measured by its monetary "return." Here are some things I learned entirely during my time at BYU:


  • German
  • Latin
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • Guitar
  • Literary theory
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Audition
  • HTML
Here are skills that I got significantly better at while at BYU, but had begun to learn before:
  • Composition
  • Cello
  • Piano
  • Reading
  • Writing
It's crazy for me to imagine that I didn't know a bit of German or Latin before I started at BYU, two languages in which I'm pretty proficient now. I've lived in Germany and spoken for hours and hours in German, but before I started as a freshman, I'd never held a conversation in German. I've read Caesar's commentary on the Gallic wars, Ovid's sprawling Metamorphoses, and Virgil's epic Aeneid in Latin, but before I went to college, I couldn't really tell you what "E Pluribus Unum" meant.

It's crazy for me to think how much music I've heard and learned here, how many novels I've read, how many theories I've been exposed to, how much science I've come to understand. I got to play in orchestras and string quartets. I got to score a movie. And so much of what I've learned hasn't even been in class per se, but just in the environment that a university fosters.

How can you put a price tag on learning an entire language, with all that comes with it? How can you quantify the value of learning a skill like playing the cello? BYU's tuition was something like $2K a semester, and that seems pretty darn cheap.

And then for my last two years I worked at Classical 89 FM and BYU Radio. Boy, did that feel like robbery; I still can't believe that they paid me to do what I did. During my brief tenure, I got to interview these people:

  • A Malian presidential candidate
  • A Newbery Honor author
  • The chairperson of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians
  • My wildly talented and successful artist friend
And a whole bunch more. I got to spend hours talking to people whose hand I otherwise had no business shaking. To a national audience, I got to monologue, lecture, and rant about whatever topics I found interesting.

Robbery. It was robbery.

Was my tuition worth it? (For the first time, I'm going to swear on this blog.) HELL YES it was worth it. Sure I had a few crappy professors. Sure I had to jump through some bureaucratic hoops, but the benefits far outweighed the costs.