Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. The first part addressed college costs and examined why tuition prices are able to remain as high as they are. This article addresses the effect of high tuition rates on the approach students take to their education as they seek an adequate return on their investment.

As costs of attendance rise at Notre Dame and many other universities, students naturally ask themselves: “Is this worth it?”

There are many facets of the college experience to consider when assessing its value: the financial return on investment, the experience of living away from home for the first time, the attractions of the collegiate lifestyle and the opportunity to develop as a well-rounded person. Unfortunately, as the costs of attending college have increased, students have neglected the quest for knowledge and wholeness—the original aim of the university—in favor of a quest to maximize the financial return of investing in a college education.

Over the long run, investing in a degree from a majority of colleges pays off. There are some cases in which attending a specific university can lead to a net financial loss, but on average the return on investment (ROI) of a bachelor’s degree will be large. Payscale’s 2013 College Education ROI Rankings evaluate the value of a bachelor’s degree from a school by calculating the 30-year Net ROI for over 1,000 schools in the United States.

Notre Dame is ranked 23rd on this list, with a 30-year Net ROI of $1,125,000. This number represents the net gain of attending Notre Dame; it is calculated by subtracting the costs of attendance for four years (estimated at $212,000 for 2012) and the opportunity cost of attending (the average amount a person with only a high school diploma will earn over 30 years) from the average amount a Notre Dame graduate will earn over 30 years. This ranking demonstrates that Notre Dame students are financially justified, in the long run, in choosing to attend this university and incurring debt along the way. The 30-year Net ROI for Notre Dame students receiving financial aid is even higher, at $1,367,000.

An important characteristic of the Payscale study is that universities that emphasize engineering and technology often produce the greatest ROI. Only five of the top 20 schools on the Payscale rankings are liberal-arts based: Harvard, Claremont-McKenna, Dartmouth, Santa Clara University and Stanford.

Regardless of the subject in which one majors, higher education on average pays off because the average college graduate receives higher yearly and lifetime earnings than the average high school graduate. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time worker with only a high school diploma earned $652 per week in 2012, or $33,904 for 52 weeks. On the other hand, the average full-time worker with only a Bachelor’s degree earned $1,066 per week, or $55,432 a year. Reporting the lifetime earnings estimates of American workers classified by educational level, a 2012 Census Bureau report predicted $1,371,000 in lifetime earnings for a worker with only a high school diploma, while a worker with a bachelor’s degree is estimated to earn $2,422,000 over his lifetime (assuming a 40 year career for both parties).

ROI numbers do not tell the whole story. Unemployment among recent college graduates is not higher than unemployment for other education levels, but it is significant. According to a May 2013 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the overall unemployment rate for recent graduates (those between ages 22 and 26 who hold bachelor degrees) is 7.9 percent. More significant, according to research released in January from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, is the fact that almost half of recent college graduates are working jobs that do not require a college degree. Underemployment, therefore, is a more significant problem than unemployment.

The philosophy that college is for everyone and that the modern economy demands only better-educated workers has led to a glut of college students and college-educated young adults who cannot find work suited to their education. Excess demand for college education, fueled in part by the false claim that you must be college-educated to succeed in the American economy, has contributed to inflated tuition rates and costs of attendance at major universities. High costs of attendance have driven students to view their education as a means to attaining greater financial ends, and this greed has in turn corrupted the nature of a university education.

Every student contemplating enrollment in college should be able to answer questions about why he is doing so. Attending college simply because doing so increases one’s future job outlook and earning potential does not do justice to the true value of a university education.

The Orestes Brownson Council at Notre Dame emphasizes the development of well-rounded individuals in accord with the universities mission to educate the hearts and minds of its students. Citing Blessed John Henry Newman’s idea of a liberal education, the Council website reads, “Liberal education is an education that makes us more human. It makes us adults. It seeks to develop all the things in us that make us distinctively human. This education is only successful if it makes us better human beings.”

John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, spoke at Notre Dame about the “Future of the University: Philosophy, Education, and the Catholic Tradition” last January. He spoke of the idea that human excellence and happiness require self-understanding and virtue. Catholic universities seek to promote human excellence and happiness; as such, they also must work to promote understanding. Haldane went on to discuss the ideas of philosophers such as Matthew Arnold, Newman and Mill.

An article in the Rover following this talk summarized Haldane’s views thus: “Arnold saw education as an essential means of the transmission of high culture, in contrast to technical training. Newman thought that universities were not to engage in research, and that the object was to teach universal knowledge; in other words, the role of colleges is to diffuse and extend knowledge rather than advance it. Mill believed that the goal of the university is to make capable and cultivated human beings, not to be a place of professional education.” This Newman-Mill-Arnold view is very similar to the classic Plato-Aristotle-Aquinas view of education.

This discussion of the future of the university is particularly important at a Catholic institution like Notre Dame. If costs of attendance will not be lowered, there should at least be a strong effort to rebalance the university toward the traditional understanding emphasized by Haldane in his lecture. The danger in modern higher education, where more and more students are educated in engineering and technology, is that the classical idea of the education of the whole human person will be lost.

A combination of many factors produces the trend of students treating higher education simply as financial investment in one’s future. High costs of attendance foster a sense of greed amongst students as they seek to make good on their investment. An economy that values college degrees in engineering and technical training more than degrees in the liberal arts will directly or indirectly encourage more students to enter these fields, where they may not take courses that will help them to develop into well-rounded individuals. Lastly, high costs of attendance coupled with the promise of high ROI foster self-serving behavior and careerism that contribute to a wider cultural malaise.

Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, recently spoke in Mexico City to the bishops of North and South America about the New Evangelization. Speaking about cultural problems in the United States, Archbishop Chaput lamented the consumer-oriented and me-first culture.

I mean the moral poverty that comes from an advanced culture relentlessly focused on consuming more of everything; a culture built on satisfying the self; a culture that runs on ignoring the needs of other people. That kind of poverty, as Mother Teresa saw so well, is very much alive in my country. It’s like a parasite of the soul,” he explained.

Archbishop Chaput went on to state the importance of Catholic higher education on the formation of American culture, and the change that education can affect. “Ecclesia in America rightly notes that ‘one of the reasons for the Church’s influence on the Christian formation of Americans is her vast presence in the field of education, and especially in the university world,’” he said.

Notre Dame must stay true to its mission statement, which states that, “The University prides itself on being an environment of teaching and learning that fosters the development in its students of those disciplined habits of mind, body, and spirit that characterize educated, skilled, and free human beings.” Students should leave Notre Dame not only looking forward to the impressive ROI that they will reap in the future, but also having been developed in mind, body and spirit so that they can help to alleviate the moral poverties of the times.

Tim Bradley is a sophomore studying theology and economics. Contact him at tbradle5@nd.edu.