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The Education is Part of the Package Too

By Carl E. Zylstra

"I'm going to wait until I get my whole package before I decide which college I'm going to attend." That's not an uncommon comment from high school juniors this time of year. And it's not a bad strategy. When you're about to commit four years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars to an educational program, it's probably a good idea to look at the whole package before you decide.

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

The problem, however, is that too often prospective students or their parents mean, "I'm going to wait until I get the financial aid package that contains my scholarships and loans before I make up my mind." It's easy to forget that, as one of my daughters-in-law once put it to a friend, "the education you get is part of the package too."

I'll be the first to admit that there are cheaper ways to get a college degree than by attending a Reformed Christian college such as Dordt College. I've known of colleges where you could commute from home and get credit for a full semester course in, say, marketing or statistics simply by attending class all day, every day for one week. At that rate you could start in August, graduate by Christmas, and never have to pay any room and board.

Compared to that kind of degree program, any financial package from a place like Dordt College is going to look expensive. And, at least by comparison, it is-until you remember that the education you receive is part of the package too

Or, sometimes there are opportunities to build a package with a college that is willing, essentially, to pay you for playing sports for them during your educational years. Such an arrangement can be a wonderful cost saver, at least if you were intending to participate in that sport anyway. But I'll never forget a college football hall-of-fame inductee in our town who commented at a luncheon in his honor, "I will always be grateful to my parents who allowed me to turn down a full-ride athletic scholarship to a Division I university so that I could attend a small college where I could get an education." The price tag on his "package" was a lot higher at the Division III football college he attended, but because he knew the package included the education he received, he knew it was worth the cost.

I would admit that it is a good idea to look at the financial numbers. In fact, I think it would be good for prospective students to insist that every school to which they apply includes all the fees and charges that a typical student in their program will incur. And, I would suggest that students or parents be sure to add to the package from many universities the fact that you may have to pay tuition for five years instead of four and potentially miss a full year's worth of income. As one student at a midwestern university recently observed to a Des Moines Register reporter, "Actually I don't know much of anybody here who graduates in four years."

The numbers truly are important-especially if they are complete and accurate numbers.

As Christians, how we spend our money says a lot about what is important to us. When I think of how much money is spent on building and maintaining strong churches with vigorous biblical teaching and inspiring educational programs for Christian youth, it seems clear that many people do realize that it's not just how much we pay but what we receive that counts. And when I recall how much has been invested by parents, churches, and grandparents in providing Christian schools when our kids could have walked down the block to the government school for free, it seems obvious to me that there really are a lot of people who know that the cost of education also has to be measured by the nature and character of the education that's received.

I simply hope that we continue to do the same thing when it comes to our college package. As the letters from colleges arrive, rip them open eagerly and study their contents carefully. Be sure to compare the packages too. But in the end, whether the college reminds you of it or not, don't forget that a big part of the package is the quality of the education you will receive.