Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison states of a character in one of her most acclaimed books, “Bryn Mawr had done what a four-year dose of liberal education was designed to do: unfit her for eighty percent of the useful work of the world.” This, in essence, states what I believe, that there is a difference between “going to college” and “getting a college education.” I was 18 when my family emigrated from Haiti to the Washington, D.C. area in 1987. My father did not have a clear understanding of the college admission process, nor did he have the means to send me to college. So, fortuitously I attended Northern Virginia Community College and later transferred to George Mason University. I did not have the luxury of “going away to college” because I had to work and take care of myself. By the time I graduated from GMU, I had no debt and also managed to get accepted in a management training program at a local bank.

As the mother of a college student who will graduate in four years, I realize that the majority of college expenses cover room and board, and the cost of tuition is only a fraction of the overall tab. Yet, my daughter is learning to be independent, self-sufficient, to collaborate with a roommate and all of the important things learned by “going to college.” The deeper questions I ponder frequently include thoughts about how much is she learning to think critically, study deeply, and question broadly.

I am a firm believer in higher education and think that everyone should strive to further their formal learning through the college or university system. What I learned in college provided the foundation to think critically and strategically, which is a necessity in my line of business. Technology affords us the opportunity to take online courses. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement. Community colleges offer flexible hours and are less expensive. The benefits certainly outweigh the cost, especially if students are wise about their choices. One of my proudest and most memorable moments was the day I graduated from college. I continue to reap the benefits of that accomplishment and it inspires me to stay on this lifelong journey of learning. A college education gave me the freedom and courage to think, reason, and remember to ask why or at least why not.