What’s a college education worth these days?
Amid rising costs of tuition and an economy still rebounding from recession, higher education consumers and observers are increasingly asking that question—and with good reason.
Since 1978, according to a Bloomberg report at the start of the current academic year, costs of tuition and fees at colleges and universities have increased more than 1,100 percent—“four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index.”
Although it’s tempting to view an investment in college in purely monetary terms, I’d like to offer a broader, more inspiring view of the value of a college education, more specifically, the value of a Bethany liberal arts education.
On this year’s Founders Day, March 7, we hosted West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman ’73 of Wheeling as our featured speaker. Of the many speeches and addresses I have listened to in my three decades of higher education experience, Marc’s presentation to a packed Commencement Hall was one of the most memorable.
He paid tribute to his Bethany education; it “shaped me profoundly and held me together,” he said.
“Bethany was the savior,” he noted. “Not only did it keep me from getting lost, but I had superb teachers. A tome on Bethany’s history noted that among the goals of the faculty was the desire to educate the conscience at Bethany. They did so, and I believe they still do.”
Marc read from his body of poetry and later presented an autographed copy of his collection Green-Silver and Silent Poems, which will hold a place of honor in our College Archives.
Yet it was his delivery to a hushed audience in historic Commencement Hall on Founder’s Day that moved many of us beyond the capacity of our own words. Here was eloquent, compelling, and persuasive evidence of the power of a Bethany education—its ability to draw upon an individual’s own talents (such as the gift for capturing and relating stories that Marc referenced in his speech), and to transform lives profoundly. To hear Marc’s address was to understand how the undergraduate years of study and reflection here lead to lifelong awareness of the world in perhaps unexpected yet immeasurably satisfying ways. Education is growth, the perpetual flowering of knowledge and understanding in all of our graduates.
The worth of that cannot truly be measured, but it is certainly worth honoring as we did so by awarding Marc the degree Doctor of Letters, presented by Dr. Jessie L. Janeshek, assistant professor of English and an accomplished poet in her own right.
We continued this year’s Founder’s Day by commemorating our roots and traditions with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a number of whose representatives joined us for the day’s activities, including the annual wreath-laying ceremony in memory of our founder, Alexander Campbell.
I believe that Campbell would have been quite pleased with our Founder’s Day this year. Not only did we celebrate the beginnings of our College in 1840, but we also, through Marc’s address, dramatically reaffirmed the value of our founder’s vision and intentions for Bethany. For this is an institution that invigorates the spirit and nourishes the soul amid the wilderness of our natural surroundings and the metaphorical wilderness where we wander in search of meaning.
The worth of a Bethany education was also highly evident during this year’s March 9 Kalon Scholarship Luncheon, featuring the keynote address by Dan Verakis ‘94. Dan, senior vice president and director of public relations at Cramer-Krasselt, the nation's largest independent communications agency, credited Bethany with paving the way for his astounding career success, which has included helping major brands such as Abbott, Kraft, and McDonald’s with their communications and operational goals.
The annual Kalon luncheon is among my favorite occasions at Bethany. It unites prospective students, their families, Bethany alumni, faculty, current students, and friends in a joint examination of the qualifications for our next class of Kalon Scholars whose demonstrated service leadership and academic excellence recommend them for consideration.
As we look ahead to the conclusion of another remarkable year at Bethany—our 173rd—we eagerly anticipate this year’s Oreon E. Scott Lectures, April 8-9, by Dr. Richard Lowery, adjunct professor of Hebrew Bible at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and Phillips Theological Seminary in Oklahoma. His wife, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is a previous Oreon E. Scott lecturer at Bethany College.
Alumni Weekend, May 3-5, is also fast approaching, with a special honoring of this year’s 50th reunion Class of 1963 and presentation of awards to distinguished graduates of Bethany.
We invite you to join us for these annual traditions. Thank you for your ongoing support of Bethany College, your sharing of our mission of faith and knowledge, and your emails, letters, and visits which mean so much during the busy spring season on a college campus.
I wish for each of you a beautiful spring with all of the promise of hope and renewal that it brings to the community of A Small College of National Distinction.