By Dr. John Huang
There’s been a lot of talk these past few days about the value of an education from the University of Kentucky. As someone who spent 11 years chasing after a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree from my beloved alma mater, I wanted to set the record straight.
When word leaked out that former Wake Forest center Olivier Sarr was considering a transfer to Kentucky, new Demon Deacon coach Steve Forbes started the firestorm by posing the question, “Why would you want to go to Wake for 3 years and then graduate from a place like Kentucky?”
Of course, Forbes was just trying to be cute…and I thought his quip was humorous. Unfortunately, it just isn’t true.
During my decade in the military, I worked side by side with individuals with degrees from all different institutions of higher learning, and I’ll put my UK diplomas up against any of theirs. My education at the University of Kentucky served me as well or better than anything Wake Forest, Duke, or any of the Ivy League schools could dish up for that matter. When you throw in the value my parents received for in state tuition, an argument could be made that I finished head and shoulders above any of those elitist snobs.
For someone like Olivier Sarr, where he gets his degree really won’t matter. He’s got his sights set on the NBA. But for the 76 other Wildcat student athletes who are scheduled to graduate this week, that UK diploma promises to serve them well.
In the high-profile college sports of basketball and football, the value of an athletic scholarship frequently gets taken for granted. A half million dollars’ worth of room and board, books, top-flight medical care, academic counseling, first-class travel, fancy hotels, and gourmet food can easily get lost against the backdrop of potential money gained from name, image, and likeness. Throw in future earnings at the next level—and for someone like Lynn Bowden, Jr.—the world truly is their oyster.
But for the rest of us regular folk, a college degree can make all the difference between financial success or failure. I don’t care how fast you can run or how high you can jump, student athletes who remain serious about academic performance and grades will ultimately be rewarded seventy times seven.
Kentucky Softball coach Rachel Lawson summed it up perfectly when asked about the benefits of a UK degree for her players.
“The opportunity that a softball player has from a financial standpoint, the windfall of graduating from Kentucky, doing everything the right way like meaning your time and putting time into your education—their windfall is going to be hundreds and thousands of dollars.”
That’s a refreshing take we don’t hear often in the high-stakes world of a John Calipari. To be fair, though, he’s dealing with geniuses on the hardwood. What he’ll do with Olivier Sarr shouldn’t be confused with how Rachel Lawson coaches a Bailey Vick. Just to make sure we didn’t confuse the two, Coach Lawson expounded a bit more on her team’s priorities.
“People say this, but we truly are academic first, softball second,” she re-emphasized. “And that sometimes gets in the way of softball, but we would never, ever, ever, ever sacrifice a win for some of these long-term gains.”
So congratulations are in order for all the UK student athletes receiving their degrees during this unique academic year. You probably have never heard of most of them, but including 21 from last December, 97 individuals will soon be in possession of that treasured blue sheepskin.
Each and every one of them graduating from “a place like Kentucky.”
Well I’ve got news for Coach Forbes. As one of my dental school instructors used to tell me, “It doesn’t matter which bus you ride, it’s the destination that’s important.”
We all punched our ticket on the Big Blue Bus. I plan to keep riding for a long, long time.