What really is the value of your degree?
As I get closer to my graduation date, I have started to wonder how much my degree is actually worth.
Fiscally, the answer is simple. It's the combination of eight semesters of tuition, board, books and food costs minus whatever scholarships I've lucked in to. Emotionally and developmentally, my net worth is measured in the whacky shenanigans of these four years added with a hopefully sufficient dose of personal growth and lifelong friends. But these aren't the figures I find myself tossing and turning over. I worry lately about the actual worth of my degree on the job market, or rather my degree prestige.
The level of UT's degree prestige has been under construction this past year with the administration's "Big Orange, Big Ideas" campaign. The idea is simple; get UT into the Top 25 list of Public Universities. But the results (with the exceptions of a tacky sign campaign and abundant free t-shirts) have not been forthcoming. Currently, UT is stuck somewhere around the mid-40s, desperately trying to break into what is essentially a stagnant group of our nation's Cal-Berkleys, Virginias and North Carolinas. To combat this standstill, it seems like UT is constantly discussing some new broad plan to put Tennessee into the rankings, and one part of said plan was discussed last week. And yet, it only seems to me like our tuition was increased.
For those who don't know, the UT system Board of Trustees met last week to vote on several proposed changes. One such change was an increase in UT's tuition, which was described by both Governor Bill Haslam and UT president Joe DiPietro as a step towards the future. Haslam decreed it to be a step towards stopping tuition increases in the future (which is a statement laced with irony considering he literally voted for a tuition increase), while DiPietro described a far-off future of success and the advancement of our system's "reputation."
To be honest, I wasn't too bothered about the proposed increase until I heard how our own governor and school president describe its intended effects. I can understand needing to increase our tuition due to financial issues. First and foremost, a school needs to make money. It needs that money so that it can keep its doors open and its teachers paid, because without money there can be no school. And if that had been the expressed goal of the increase, I would have been perfectly fine with it. I want my school to be here and if I need to, I'll shell out a couple extra bucks to ensure it stays where it is. But that's not the route they took; instead, everything revolves around degree prestige and our own "reputation."
As if the US's education system wasn't already completely saturated by hubris and extremely outdated hierarchies, our school's leaders have decided to add more supercilious wood to the fire. But no, we don't need a tuition increase because of our own financial burdens — which, though I am not privy to facts and figures, by judging our entire nations financial situation, I can hazard a guess that we too are in the red — rather we need it to keep chugging along towards the Xanadu-esque pleasure domes of the "Top 25."
In short, we've become obsessed with the idea of our degree's prestige.
I might be acting too unkindly towards the administration and the Top 25 initiative here. It goes without saying that I want my degree to be worth as much as it can be. I feel like I have received a very good education here and when a future employer sees my resume, I want him to think highly of the four years I spent at UT. But that doesn't mean I'm all for quantifying the value of our education into a list of schools more superfluous than a preseason Top 25 list in college football. You can't put a value on the worth of someone's degree, because it is all dependent upon the individual and their own time at that school. This trend turns people into numbers and educations into figures, which ultimately devalues any schools' degree prestige.
The value of a degree is not an easy thing to assess. It's entirely subjective. But despite the fact of an education's individuality, universities still gesticulate plans to raise their school into the upper-echelon of quantifiable education. "Big Orange, Big Ideas" and its Top 25 plan aren't bad ideas in the sense that they are meant to be malicious. I do believe that President DiPietro, Governor Haslam and Chancellor Cheek do truly want UT to be the best school it can be. I do also want there to be an raise in pay for UT faculty, something that was also approved at the meeting. The problem is that it feels like they're going about it the wrong way.
It feels like we're moving toward a phase where UT is measured by facts and figures, not the people within it. And the cost of that is much more than an 8 percent tuition increase.
— Preston Peeden is a senior in history. He can be reached at email@example.com.