It’s back-to-school time, and we are being inundated with a flood of news articles about whether or not a college degree is “worth it.” Do you need one to get a good job? Are there better options such as trade schools or online certifications? What about apprenticeships? It seems as if everyone has an opinion.

On one thing, we can all agree: college is expensive.

It costs $6,640 per year for a full-time student to attend Weber State University, one of the most affordable universities in the state. This includes tuition ($4,892), fees ($948), and textbooks ($800). Those costs ignore room and board, which if you stay on campus, can set you back another $5,000 to $10,000 per year.

What do you get for that? At Weber State, your 20-year return-on-investment (ROI), or the amount you’d earn with your degree, minus the cost of your education, is north of $400,000 — higher than any other public university in the state.

Incidentally, Weber State is in the top 10% of highest ROI schools in the nation — not that I’m bragging. Go Wildcats.

Still, at the risk of mixing metaphors, that’s a lot of cabbage to shell out all at once for the hope of a higher salary.

What if I told you, earning more money should be the last reason to get a degree?

If you were to ask my top two reasons for going to college they would be the following: you get to meet people who know more than you do about nearly everything, and you get really good at learning stuff. Each class gives you dozens, if not hundreds, of opportunities to practice that particular skill.

Once you know how to learn things, access to the internet becomes like a superpower. Couple the ability to learn with the sea of information online? You can do anything.

Almost incidentally, you get enough experience to write an amazing resume. For example, if you learned how to write a paper in college, guess what, you now have “documentation skills.” Used a spreadsheet program in lab? You can add “data analysis” to your list of abilities. And all that group work? Can you say “collaboration skills”?

But going to school simply to get a job? That’s way down on my list as well. After all, there are lots of other ways to earn a good salary.

After high school, I took some time off to work as a front desk clerk at a large hotel. Despite the poor performance during my first try at college, I was smart, a hard worker, and, if may say so myself, looked pretty good in a suit.

It wasn’t too long before my boss started giving me more and more responsibility, and the signals were pretty clear: if I stuck with it, I’d probably move up to management, maybe eventually run my own property. Who knows, I might have even started my own chain of hotels.

As someone who lives in Marriott-Slaterville, I now know that was a possibility.

But I had this crazy idea that I wanted to be a journalist. So, despite the warnings of my boss and some friends and family, I quit my job and went off to journalism school. Since I am now a physics professor, we can see how well that worked out.

Still, I manage to earn a good living doing a job I love teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Would I have made more money running a bunch of hotels? Maybe. Would I have enjoyed it as much as what I do now? Probably. It was a really fun job.

But then I think of all of the things I love outside of my job: courses I took in college, classes on music theory, religion, sociology, creative writing, history and language have expanded my interests. Now I love learning new things, from botany to the ukulele, and that love was kindled in college. In school, I learned that I can learn anything.

So, by all means, go to school to chase that higher salary. You won’t regret it. And since I’m a scientist, I’ll add this: one year of college physics and calculus puts you in very elite group of mathematical problem solvers, no matter what you choose to do with your future career.

So, if that sort of superpower interests you, I encourage you to look into our programs at Weber State.

And if you don’t become a scientist?

There’s a strong bet you’ll still find a good job, and what you learn at Weber State will do wonders for your other interests.

Dr. John Armstrong is a professor of physics at Weber State University. Twitter: @ByJCArmstrong

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