May is our cherry-on-the-top month at NHTI; it is when we celebrate commencement, the ultimate earned reward for years of academic study, rigor and sacrifice. Instead of our large, traditional event, this year we will hold seven hybrid commencement ceremonies with online and onsite options for attendees. Additionally, our 2020 graduating class will be invited to walk the stage since their ceremony was entirely virtual last year because of pandemic safety concerns. We are thrilled to provide this cherished public ritual since it is truly an important rite of passage for graduates and their guests.
With the enormous academic upheaval brought on by the pandemic, the achievement of completing one’s degree is momentous and especially so this year. The pandemic not only brought entirely novel innovations to curriculum like no other time in the college’s history reinventing what, how, and where we learn but also who we might need to learn with (children on laps) and the condition of our learning (not feeling well and being digitally isolated). Although virtually distanced classrooms were ubiquitous, our students found unique ways to stay connected with each other, to their programs and to their completion goals. This grit is truly exceptional and makes commencement an especially powerful and emotional event.
Commencement has always been my favorite ceremony — seeing the pride in families’ faces and students’ accomplishments is our ultimate reward! This is why I always encourage students to revel in the moment when they hear their names being called, when they grasp their degrees in hand; they need to recognize the significance of the milestone. These milestones become memories of personal strength and can be sources of reminders during tough times.
There are national organizations that exist solely to ensure that students complete their degrees. One such organization, Complete College America (CCA), works with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. CCA believes that U.S. students don’t just need to go to college; they need to complete college. Access has improved — more students are going to college — but success has unfortunately declined.
In just 10 years, six of 10 new jobs will require a college education, but fewer than half of students who enter college today finish with a degree or credential. Those who do complete college are taking longer, paying more, and graduating with more debt. This impacts economic mobility. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s a clear benefit to getting a 2-year associate degree. In 2018, workers with an associate degree had median weekly earnings of $862, compared with just $730 for people with a high school diploma alone.
Economic benefits are not the only reason why college degree completion matters. The Lumina Foundation report ‘It’s Not Just The Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society’ provides a long list of the benefits of completing a degree; a few are captured below:
- The incidence of poverty is 3.5 times lower.
- The probability of being employed is 24 percent higher.
- The likelihood of reporting health to be very good or excellent is 44 percent greater.
- The likelihood of being a regular smoker is 3.9 times lower.
- The likelihood of exercising, having a healthy diet are significantly higher.
- The probability of being in prison or jail is 4.9 times lower.
And, my personal favorite: The likelihood of being happy is significantly higher.
So, by all means come to college but complete your degrees so that I can proudly announce your name at an upcoming commencement!