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By Thomas F. O'Neill

The Value of Higher Learning

Working as a teacher in Suzhou, China I have seen firsthand the value of acquiring a higher education. Education has raised the standard of living for millions in China because there are over 365 million people that have a middle class income. That is more than the entire population of America and the standard of living here will continue to rise due to the growing educational opportunities.

A half century ago the average high school graduate in America could find a job and achieve a middle class income. A person seeking employment today with just a high school diploma will most likely earn less than the average college graduate. Good employment opportunities will be harder to find for those lacking a degree especially in today’s world. With high unemployment many in America are struggling to find decent paying jobs and the number of underemployed is growing as well.

A College degree shows potential employers that you possess critical thinking skills and that you value your education. There are many that question whether the high cost involved in earning that degree is worth the time and effort. Those same people will argue that there are many job seekers with degrees who can’t find work in their field.

The people who enter the job market passing up an opportunity to go to college are most likely shortchanging their future for the here and now. Some choose to return to school in later years but find that it is harder to earn a college degree with the added responsibilities that come with raising a family.

There are a growing number of adults returning to school though in order to better themselves by earning a degree. They understand that it is their only option for better employment.

Within the past twenty years or so education not only raised the standard of living in China it also had a profound impact on China’s growing economy. The economy here is on fast forward and its growing exponentially with no sign of slowing down. This is also adding to the higher standard of living in China due to higher wages being spurred by the rising job market.

More students in China are also traveling abroad to continue their education not because education is so much better outside of China but rather they understand the value of experiencing other cultures.

Some of my students have commented in my cultural diversity class that learning new languages is not enough to get by in our global economy. You also have to understand the cultures of those countries you want to do business with through international commerce. In order to be successful in business you have to understand the cultural preferences of the corporate buyers on the global market. That is just one of the reasons why China is so open to the cultural exchange programs of various nations.

Throughout history many conflicts among nations have occurred due to lack of cultural understanding. An Educated society though can help its citizenry overcome negative preconceived notions and negative stereotypes that have led to national conflicts in the past.

Many cultural exchange students who traveled abroad experienced firsthand how their negative perceptions of foreigners changed to positive experiences. This occurred when foreign students simply interacted with one another while studying abroad.

There are many cultural exchange programs sponsored by American and foreign Universities. They are helping students from all over the world come to a greater understanding of the various cultures that make up the human race. When we gain a deeper understanding of other cultures we in turn gain a deeper understanding of our own culture. That knowledge is truly valuable because when properly applied it can resolve conflicts.

The appreciation of a country’s art, food, literature, and music, is also part of the cultural experience. China is influenced by western music, western artifacts, classical literature from the west, and American fast food. American movies are hugely popular as well and they have had a profound impact on China’s perception of America. When the Chinese come to the U.S. the first thing they realize is America is not like what they see in the movies.

In America and in China College students are gaining a clearer understanding that by placing themselves in the service of others they gain a stronger sense of self-worth. Volunteerism lends itself towards boundless opportunities. Utilizing the students’ skills, knowledge, and education not only enhance the community but it also opens countless doors towards enhancing the student’s own well being. Upon graduation it shows potential employers that they take civic responsibility and pride in their community.

In America many college educated individuals may not land those high paying jobs fresh out of college but many will turn to non-governmental service jobs. They will gain a sense of civic responsibility and work experience that is vital for landing jobs with higher pay.

Statistics show that educated individuals are more likely to vote and get involved in the political process. College graduates fresh out of school are also more likely to work for community agencies helping the less fortunate better themselves.

A college education can also lead to a life of continued learning and an appreciation of the opportunities that come with that learning. Many adults return to school for higher degrees or to simply take courses for self-enrichment to learn new skills or pursue hobbies and interests. Self-enrichment cannot be financially quantified though especially when that education is achieved throughout one’s lifetime.

A child’s education is vital for America’s future and our national well being. Adults must do all that can be done to encourage the youth of America to continue their learning and to put their education to good use.

When students of mine get accepted to foreign Universities they feel as if they achieved something of extraordinary value. In reality they have because a great education cannot be monetarily quantified it can only be freely shared through ones character of achievement.

I tell my students that the true worth of a person is not measured through ones salary or what they spent on earning their degrees. A person’s true worth is measured by how well they spend their lives in the service of others. What we freely give to others determines the true worth of our character because what we give to our communities we in turn give to ourselves.

The fool will strive for the material possessions they do not have but wish to gain. The wise on the other hand will develop what they already possess within themselves. Education can be the means to developing the skills and knowledge that is needed in developing our true potential.

Always with love from Suzhou, China,
Thomas F O’Neill

    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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