EKU pres. touts value of higher ed in Winchester

An enthusiastic crowd of George Rogers Clark high school juniors and seniors engaged in a dialogue about their future with Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson Monday.

The question posed: what is the value of a college education?

The presentation and conversation were part of EKU’s initiative to take the message of aspiring to higher learning to prospective college students where they are: in their high schools.

The GRC visit marked Benson’s sixth stop with more scheduled over the next several months.

“This is an opportunity to show students higher education has real value, it opens doors for students to opportunities beyond their wildest dreams, and it is affordable and worth their time and effort,” Benson said.

Stephanie Wilson, a self-described “eternal Colonel,” is an art teacher at GRC.

“I want kids to know you can do big things, even if you’re from a small town or don’t have family that attended college,” Wilson said.

Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a Rank I at EKU.

“I’m a lifelong learner at EKU,” she said. “For me, getting an education has been a continual goal.”

Several GRC students indicated they would be first-generation college students.

Benson noted EKU puts specific focus on first-generation college students.

“About 40 percent of our students are the first ones in their family to go to college,” he said. “That’s why it is so important students learn about affordability, expectations and what college work is like.

“College is hard, but we have systems and people in place to help you succeed. The more education you get, the more money you will earn over a lifetime and the better quality of life you will enjoy — you will be healthier, you will volunteer, you will vote and you will be involved in your community. All of these positive aspects are tied to how much education you get.”

So far, EKU has visited Somerset High School, Madison Central, Madison Southern, Perry Central and Estill County.

The presentation includes topics on affordability and not getting sticker shock on the price of college, the importance of scholarships and where to look for them, how college graduates help power communities and the earning power of a degree.

Tanlee Wasson, incoming vice president of student success at EKU, said three of four EKU graduates go to work one year after graduation in Kentucky.

“Graduates from EKU are the nurses, police, business leaders, teachers, social workers and many other professions that keep Kentucky communities vibrant,” Wasson said. “Providing a forum for high school students to better understand the benefits of a college education is good for the students, their families and the Commonwealth.”