Is a college degree still worth it? A Michigan University President Weighs in

(What follows is an editorial comment from Lake Superior State University President Tom Pleger)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – As a university president, I am often asked about the value of college. Recently, I had an engaging conversation with several professionals outside of the Academy about the value of a four-year degree and beyond. The conversation centered around the premise that college was too expensive for most and, consequently, the return on investment was not worth it. Unfortunately, there are many who do not fully understand the value of a university education. It is more than a good job, it is much more than earning power – it is about enrichment and opportunity.

College is a transformational experience. A true university education exposes one to new ideas, new subjects, different people and perspectives, and develops the skills of critical thinking, an understanding of math and science, communication skills, information literacy, an appreciation and understanding of the human condition, an appreciation of the arts, and global awareness, and a thirst for life-long learning. These skills also enhance and foster empathy, creativity, curiosity, and adaptability. The return on investment is a series of highly sought after skills that lead to opportunity. Opportunity to travel and engage people from different cultures and backgrounds, opportunity to be involved in public service and the public good, opportunity to innovate, and opportunity to see connections between different disciplines, different perspectives, and different sets of data. These opportunities also statistically lead to greater earning power, greater employability, and flexibility when it comes to navigating changes in the economy.

I often think about the investments in time and resources that my spouse (Teresa Pleger) and I put into our education. Between the two of us, we spent 17 years in college and earned a total of five degrees. Was it worth it? Most certainly! These experiences allowed us to travel, to see the world in new ways, to appreciate the natural and social worlds around us, and to hold a number of rewarding and engaging professional positions throughout our professional careers. In terms of financial return on investment, the returns have been considerable, but the most rewarding returns have been opportunity, experience, and the development of skills that would have not been possible had we not gone to college and pursued advanced degrees.

We also often discuss the advantages we had by having parents who graduated from college. My father is a first-generation college graduate (Michigan State College, now MSU), my mother was third generation (she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Teresa’s parents were first generation college graduates. Teresa’s parents both earned graduate degrees (all from UW campuses), and my father earned his law degree (from UW-Madison). When we talk with our parents about this topic, they clearly recognize the opportunities that college provided for them and they most certainly encouraged and supported us along the way.

Throughout our careers, we have helped many first-generation college students navigate college. For them, there was an additional challenge of coming from families who had little to no familiarity with college. Some of our greatest rewards have come from seeing many first-generation college students succeed and benefit greatly from their investments. To us, there is no question that the return on investment is most certainly worth it.


Thomas Pleger is President of Lake Superior State University. He earned his BS in Political Science and minored in Anthropology/Archaeology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and his MA and PhD in Anthropology/Archaeology from UW-Madison. Teresa Pleger, his spouse, is also an educator. She earned her BS in Health Education, minoring in Psychology and her Master of Education (MEPD), from UW-La Crosse. Tom Pleger currently serves on Michigan’s 21st Century Economy Commission, a governor-appointed committee that is currently working on a report to position Michigan for its future.

Lake Superior State University is Michigan’s most personal university offering a wide range of professional/technical programs and liberal arts programs that are all grounded in a liberal education base that emphasizes experiential learning. Point your Web browser to for more information.

High School Aquaculture Challenge program kicks off

High School Aquaculture Challenge program kicks off

Competition engages students in a real-world, hands-on science and business experience.

Posted on March 15, 2017 by Elliot Nelson, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant

Lake Superior State University Professor Dr. Barbara Evans describes to high school students a model of sustainable aquaculture. Photo: Kacie Ferguson

In 2015, Dr. Barbara Evans of Lake Superior State University (LSSU) had a vision—to utilize the wonders of aquaculture to engage students from across the state in a multi-disciplinary competition. This vision was realized in 2016 with the first Aquaculture Challenge competition. The competition is based around creating a mini-fish and plant farm within the classroom. Students will design an aquaculture system, monitor that system using automated sensors, and create a business plan for how their system could be a model for an actual aquaculture business. The program was initially funded by a Michigan STEM Partnership grant. In this second year, with funds from the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center and Michigan Sea Grant, the program is able to be provided again to schools around the state.

The competition kicked off this year on Jan. 20, 2017, with an open house event at the campus of LSSU. Students and teachers from as far away as Detroit and as close as Sault Ste. Marie attended this informational kickoff event. The open house started with a tour of an aquaculture facility, located in the Aquatic Research Lab at LSSU. This facility has been hatching and rearing Atlantic salmon for 30 years with the purpose of enhancing the local fishery and training LSSU students in the techniques of fish culture. After the facility tour, the aquaculture challenge participants made their way to campus where they learned about the three main aspects of the challenge. The first is building an aquaponics system using tanks, grow racks, PVC pipe and water pumps. The idea is to create an innovative system in which fish can be grown and the waste water from the fish tank can be cycled through a plant growing system. The plants will take up not only some of the water but also the nutrients that are found in the fish waste. This is known as an aquaponics system combining both the components of hydroponics and aquaculture. The second component of the challenge for students is using computer coding skills to program automated Arduino sensors. These sensors can monitor the growing conditions within the system, and can alert students to any potential changes or tweaks that need to be made to the system. Finally, students learned about the business program Canvanizer, which helps them create a viable business model using their aquaponics system design.

The open house wrapped up with teams each receiving a kit of equipment to take back to their schools. Each school will then have teams of students create their aquaponics system, program their sensors, and draft a business model. Teams will return to LSSU on May 5, 2017, to show what progress they have made. The competition day will include a panel of judges who will evaluate the students’ programming, business model, and system design. Awards will be granted in each category as well as for best overall team.

The Aquaculture Challenge program is truly a multi-disciplinary event and almost every student can find something that intrigues them. Overall it engages students in a real-world, hands-on science and business experience unlike anything else.

Schools and teachers interested in participating in this, or next year’s competition, should contact Elliot Nelson at or (906) 635-2845.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit

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Open Letter to campus and both Sault Ste. Marie communities


(What follows is an open letter from Lake Superior State University President Tom Pleger to LSSU and both Sault Ste. Marie communities)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University opened its doors over 70 years ago under the GI Bill in 1946. At that time, it was an access institution founded as a branch college to serve returning World War II veterans. From its historic Fort Brady roots, LSSU has grown to offer a wide array of academic programs, extracurricular programs, and community outreach programming.

Today, public higher education is changing at an unparalleled pace. Lake State continues to be an institution that provides outstanding value and access to higher education opportunities, not only for our students, but also for the communities we serve. However, we need to look toward the future and plan accordingly to position LSSU to meet the demands of Michigan and the region’s future needs.

As we look to the future, LSSU is positioning itself for long-term sustainability and growth, a focus on excellence, a continuous mode of academic program review and update, and a plan for maintaining and enhancing our facilities. We are moving ahead with a new health care Simulation Center in partnership with War Memorial (our local hospital), and we are in the engineering assessment and planning stages for the new Center for Freshwater Research and Education facility. We are also developing long-term infrastructure plans for upgrading aging facilities and systems for lighting, electricity, information technology, and building climate control.

This spring, we opened a newly renovated South Hall as home for the Lukenda School of Business. The new R. W. Considine Hall (formally South Hall), which has its formal rededication on April 21, will also serve other disciplines and will become another community focal point on the LSSU campus and the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Lake State has also launched a new shared governance and strategic planning process focused on Culture, Academics, Finances, and Enrollment (CAFÉ). We have created a strategic committee for each of the institutional core CAFÉ areas with membership from across the campus. Each strategic committee is charged with setting goals, outcomes, and assessment of progress in each of their respective areas. Together, we are working to build an even better institution that is focused on excellence in all areas of its operations.

LSSU is in the final stages of completing its Higher Learning Commission (HLC) regional reaccreditation process. All recognized universities in the US go through a regional reaccreditation process on regular intervals. This process is guided by peer review of a compliance report, assurance argument, and a campus visitation by a team of colleagues to verify the quality and health of our institution. I have been through numerous reaccreditations and always find it to be an outstanding opportunity to foster institutional excellence. In early March, we received a favorable HLC review and LSSU has been reaccredited. LSSU will continue on the Standard Pathway for future reaccreditation reviews. In a separate communication, we learned that our Change Request to offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program was not approved at this time. Rather, the HLC provided a road map of steps to be taken by the institution to garner such approval, issues included faculty qualifications and scholarship/professional development, and policies and practices for graduate education.

That said, reaccreditation reports always offer recommendations for improvement. We expect ours to focus on LSSU’s excellent hands-on experiences along with suggestions to improve diversity, assessment processes, program review, and to improve our faculty-staff evaluations of scholarship, research, and teaching. These recommendations will serve as a roadmap to guide the institution over the next five to ten years in our planning, evaluation, and assessment of all operations and programs.

In addition to LSSU planning, I have spent these last several months serving on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Economy Commission. The commission, which serves through June, is charged with developing a master plan for Michigan’s future economy 20 years out and beyond. We have been busy meeting across the state and I am pleased that higher education has been a major focus of our discussions in addition to other key aspects of Michigan’s future.

By all accounts, post-secondary education will be more important than ever for Michiganders. Our state will depend upon a workforce and talent pool that is creative, adaptive, flexible, analytical, and understand math and science; that can connect and understand wide-ranging types of information and data as well as relate to and connect with people in a global context. Future economies will be knowledge-based, and LSSU will play an even greater role in shaping the EUP, Michigan, and the region.