The benefit of college, like beauty, is “in the eye of the beholder.” So, going to college is a major life choice that most of us consider at some point, whether in high school or later in life. Some say “yes” it is worth it and others say “no,” it is not worth my time, effort, and money.

On an individual basis, both answers are correct. For society, an educated populace is a net positive, but the cost of college has grown substantially, and every family must consider that. One does not have to attend college to benefit society – education comes in many forms, and skills are often honed even after a degree is achieved.

On balance, in today’s work environment, I am in favor of attending college and fully support the provision in the current legislative agenda that makes two years of community college an extension of public education – not “free,” but at no cost to the student. We taxpayers – usually – are willingly take up the cost and count it as a value-added investment. I note that last week there was a parade here in Tahlequah that, once again, shows the positive and spirited support for our local schools. That’s a good sign and would be true for another two voluntary years of education through the public system.

As for college, I learned a valuable lesson my freshman year. That lesson is you are only successful as a student if you are dedicated to the task and can maintain a positive future orientation for four or more years. I didn’t have that focus my first year and nearly failed college. I went back to work doing manual labor. It was hot, hard work, and it got my attention. After that jarring experience, I went back to school and pursued my degree with focus and dedication, and graduated with a good GPA.

That GPA and other factors got me into graduate school, which were another two years of dedication and learning. For me, and for millions of others, college is well worthwhile. It provides not only opportunities for learning in the classroom but opens doors to ideas and concepts I would not otherwise have encountered. Lasting relationships can occur that enrich our lives with other students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds providing us with opportunities to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Oklahoma has many good ways to pay for your education. One good one for most students is the “Oklahoma Promise” at https://www.okhighered.org/okpromise/student-requirements.shtml. It’s not easy, but it can clearly help prepare students for college.

There’s also the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, which is not taxed during accumulation or when it’s being used if it is paying for education. Then there are grants and loans and work-study programs. I worked part time all through my undergraduate program, and that helped a lot. And, of course, there are great regional colleges, like NSU, that offer affordable tuition. I attended Southwestern and Central State, as well as OU, and all offered affordable options. I’m aware that a lot has changed, and costs have gone up, but the regional colleges and community colleges are great options.

College is not for everyone, and many successful people have never attended. There are trades and skills that are highly paid and highly recruited, so considering those options is worthwhile. The bottom line is that each person has an opportunity to succeed. College is one route to success, but not the only one, and we need all the help we can get in solving problems. Whatever you do, be part of the solution.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.

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