There are many ways to measure the value of an SJU education.

Every spring, the story repeats itself.

Graduates nationwide cross stages, shake hands and receive their college diplomas. Meanwhile, across the country, their high school-aged counterparts check their mailboxes — and, increasingly, email and text messages — as they wait to hear which college will welcome them into the fold and prepare them for a new chapter in their lives.

Both groups face myriad challenges. Both also see the promise of a bright future ahead.

Yet much of the national conversation revolving around these erstwhile college grads — and higher education as a whole — is focused solely on cost, not the value returned on this investment.

For many students and families, in their lifetimes, the cost of a college education will be second only to the cost of a home. Many new graduates will find themselves facing debt for the first time in their lives. A few may even question whether their education was worth it.

Sometimes overlooked in this assessment is that, in the long term, higher education has been documented time and time again as a truly outstanding investment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the unemployment rate for college graduates is almost half that of workers with no college education. Over the course of their lifetimes, these graduates will earn 84% more than non-college grads, a Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce study has found and the Wall Street Journal has reported.

In fact, according to the Brookings Institution, the average rate of return for a bachelor’s degree over the career of a college graduate is 15.2%. Compare that to the average rate of return for the stock market (6.8%) and AAA bonds (2.9%), and it’s clear that, for a large majority of students, higher education has a significant payoff.

At Saint Joseph’s University, however, the value of an education goes beyond financial metrics. The Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person provides value beyond the numbers.

“We understand a college education is far more than a consumer purchase, but also a lifetime decision,” says C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72 (B.S.), Saint Joseph’s second-year president. “It is an investment that shows a great deal of trust in the University and its values. Every decision we make as an institution has to be focused on securing that trust and delivering an experience that meets and exceeds the investment.”

The results bear this out. Within six months of graduating, 94% of Saint Joseph’s Class of 2012 was employed, pursuing further studies in graduate or professional school, or enrolled in full-time volunteer programs.

More specifically, recently ranked the Haub School of Business, the largest Jesuit business school in the country, fourth in the nation in financial return on investment among its peers. The ratings were based on a methodology that surveyed graduates and employees, comparing the cost of tuition with the median lifetime earnings associated with each school.

Similarly high value is delivered by non-business curricula. Responding to a Congressional request, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported over the summer that “study of the humanities and social sciences must remain central components of America’s educational system at all levels. Both areas are critical to producing citizens who can participate effectively in a democratic society and become innovative leaders.”

Time Magazine further reported that “employers have expressed a preference for students who have received a broadly based education that prepares them not just for their first job, but for their fourth and fifth jobs.” The report continued, “There is little reason to doubt that those entering the workforce today will be called upon to play many different roles over the course of their careers. Those who do best in this new environment will be those whose educations have prepared them to be flexible.”

But these numbers and trends only tell part of the story, according to Brice Wachterhauser, Ph.D., Saint Joseph’s provost and chief academic officer.

“Of course our students leave with degrees that are competitive in the marketplace,” Wachterhauser says. “But they’re also getting a complete Jesuit, Catholic education. It’s an education that focuses not only on academics, but also students’ lives and their obligations to become lifelong contributors to a greater good.”

The message is clearly getting through. Approximately 90% of SJU freshmen return for their sophomore year, which is more than 20 percentage points better than the national average. And nearly 80% of Saint Joseph’s students overall complete their degrees within the six-year matriculation period measured by the federal government (compared to just over 50% nationally).

“The conversation isn’t only about financial returns,” says John Haller, associate provost for enrollment. “Students leave Saint Joseph’s with a total educational experience that translates to much more than salaries and earnings.”

Four years ago, Mary Sisti ’13 (B.S.), received two pieces of news from SJU that would change her life: an acceptance letter, and along with it, a notification that she had received the University’s Presidential Scholarship.

Sisti was eager to apply because she heard graduates of SJU’s food marketing program go on to jobs with top companies. Additionally, she was attracted by the school’s reputation for providing scholarship support to promising students.

“I wouldn’t have been able to attend Saint Joseph’s without the Presidential Scholarship that came with my offer of admission,” Sisti says.

The Presidential Scholarship — along with three other scholarship offers — made Sisti’s decision and the logistics of attending Saint Joseph’s University easier.

“Ultimately, I chose to attend SJU because of the investments it was willing to make in its students,” says Sisti, who now works as a sales analyst with the future leaders program at Merck Consumer care. “My scholarships provided the opportunity to study at a private, Jesuit university without breaking the bank.”

Sisti’s financial aid puts her in good company.

A vast majority of SJU undergraduates — more than 90% — receive assistance in the form of scholarships, tuition discounts, financial aid or other awards. This year’s aid totals $76.2 million.

“From top to bottom, Saint Joseph’s University is working diligently to make college as affordable as possible,” says Lou Mayer, Ed.D. ’79 (B.S.), vice president for financial affairs and treasurer. “There’s a real dedication to making a Saint Joseph’s education available to everyone. Specifically, it will be our practice to set our annual tuition rate increases at levels closer to the national rate of inflation.”

This effort has been ongoing and is central to Fr. Gillespie’s vision for his presidency. Since he began his term in July 2012, Fr. Gillespie, himself a Saint Joseph’s graduate (B.S., Class of ’72), has emphasized a strong desire to enhance the value of an SJU degree.

“What we offer is too important, and what our graduates bring to the world is too critical, to limit the pool of future students,” he says. To this effect, Fr. Gillespie announced the launch of the President’s Magis Scholarship Initiative in November 2012, aimed at increasing scholarship support for Saint Joseph’s students by raising $50 million in current-use and endowed scholarships. The initiative aims to make Saint Joseph’s Jesuit, Catholic education more accessible for students who cannot afford an education without full financial support, students who cannot afford a private university, and academically gifted students who have their choice of private universities.

More than 70% of financial aid at SJU is need-based to promote this accessibility. Since fall 2007, there has been an 80% increase in the amount of financial need met overall.

Today the challenges of providing that access are greater for a university than ever before. “Since the fall of 2007, every additional financial aid dollar spent has gone to meeting need,” says Haller. “That’s due to a real effort to make a quality education available to as wide a range of students as possible.”

Lisa Mariani, a senior with a 3.9 GPA, says that she is receiving more than financial aid through her John P. McNulty Scholarship. The dual physics and theology major had many opportunities out of high school. But none matched the overall SJU experience.

“At other schools, I received half- or three-quarter scholarships,” Mariani says. “But the McNulty Scholarship at Saint Joseph’s covered my full tuition and allowed me to benefit from having a faculty mentor who supported my research experience.”

The McNulty Scholars program, and other scholarships made possible with the support of alumni and friends, provide students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend SJU with financial assistance to pursue their education.

“Many undergraduates do not get the research experience that the McNulty Scholars program has provided me,” says Mariani, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering after graduation. “It has greatly enhanced my education at Saint Joseph’s University and is encouraging me to strive for greater pursuits.”

These scholarships make a difference in students’ lives, says Fr. Gillespie, and he believes that they drive students to achieve more, academically and professionally.

“Scholarship is the lifeblood of a Jesuit, Catholic education, which was founded on providing access to learning and developing the breadth and depth of each person,” says Fr. Gillespie.

The University’s benefactors agree, says Marty Farrell, ’88 (B.S.), ’98 (M.S.), vice president for development and alumni relations. “Not only has the University made a substantial commitment to enhancing students’ academic experience through scholarship support, so have our alumni, parents and friends,” says Farrell. “Last year our benefactors contributed more than $3 million toward scholarships and financial aid, which is double the amount raised the previous year. The importance of the impact of this support cannot be overstated in light of the financial pressures on both the University and the families we serve.”

The national discussion of whether higher education is worth the cost will persist, with some insisting that the value of attending college is declining as tuition and the cost of living rise. Missing from that argument is the commitment of schools such as Saint Joseph’s to provide financial assistance through scholarships and other means, as well as the earnings potential of students when they graduate. In the end, the value of a college education cannot be measured simply by the price tag, but in the quality of the educational experience and its value for years to come.

Students like Sisti and Mariani speak to the value of their Saint Joseph’s educations and the scholarships that made them possible. Likewise, 2013 graduate EuTchen Ang has attested to the worth of his SJU degree — “I have discovered my inner potential” — as he begins a Ph.D. program in bioinorganic chemistry at Princeton University this fall.

Now a fellow with ACESJU (the Alliance for Catholic Education SJU) at Gloucester Catholic High School in New Jersey, Danielle Critelli ’13 says she appreciates how the “members of the SJU community embrace and support individuality and hold each other to high expectations within relationships. These are the values that will stay with me as I continue to grow personally and professionally.”

Dominique Howard, another May graduate, was the first in her family to graduate from college. After completing two internships with Big Five accounting firms while an undergraduate, she now begins her career with Deloitte in Philadelphia.

“Coming here [to SJU], I couldn’t have anticipated …the job offer, the scholarships, the travel opportunities,” says Howard. “This has been an incredible experience. I feel incredibly blessed.”