Last week, College Measures, a partnership of the American Institutes for Research and the consulting firm Matrix Knowledge, released a report that aims to shed some light on the darkest corners of higher education: is your degree worth it?

With every year the U.S. job market still shakes and shudders toward recovery following the crushing economic downturn, the value of having a college degree in a post-grad world has been routinely questioned by educators, politicians, pop culture icons and most desperately, the students carrying the burden of astronomical loan debt on their shoulders after graduation. While some analysts praised the report for using hard facts on education and employment to produce “revealing insights,” some look at the numbers as an ominous symbol of the changing times, and the place of Higher Education in today’s society, especially liberal arts institutions.

So, here at Grand Valley State University, we’re on the bum end of all of this social science. As a liberal arts institution, GVSU operates under the notion that having a strong liberal arts foundation, as stated on their website, benefits students by “fostering critical thinking, creative problem solving, and cultural understanding.” And though GVSU is not shy about highlighting the economic relevance and post-grad success rates of our engineering, nursing and business programs, we pride ourselves first and foremost on our liberal education. The idea on our campus is that college education is not only a gateway to economic prosperity, but as a lens to look through that broadens horizons and challenges students to make connections within the big picture – and that’s what it should be.

Of course, there is that reality of life in the information age. Especially in the field of journalism, we rely on numbers to tell us what’s working and what’s not working. So, information optimists are looking at this data set as a way to cater education to societal demands, which largely lies in reinforcing the job market. And while the idea that colleges should begin to cater to programs that turn the most profit after graduation makes sense, it only makes sense if you think of college as a business. This emphasis on “what college is worth” signifies a dangerous trajectory in higher education. This only works to further the emerging school of thought that college is not to be seen as an experience that puts you in both a financial and mental position to handle the big, bad real world, but rather as nothing more than a transaction between a business and their target consumers.

As students on the cusp of this paradigm shift, in some ways, we control the outcome. That’s not to say students shouldn’t be present of mind when deciding their major, and where that might put them after they walk across the stage at commencement – having one foot in reality is crucial – but it doesn’t mean that knowledge for knowledge’s sake is foolish. Having a heart for what you do might not make you a titan of industry, but the payoff? That’s priceless.