Why We Go To College

The American collegiate student is under attack.  In a March 4 op-ed article titled, “College the Easy Way,” New York Times writer Bob Herbert asked the question “What are America’s kids actually learning in college?” His answer, “not much.”

He notes a new book entitled  Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Professor Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roska of University of Virginia. According to this book courses are getting easier and students are partying more with skills such as critical thinking and reasoning playing the victim.

Blame is ubiquitous. “Kids are lazy these days,” reads one comment in the highlights section of Herbert’s article.  Another blames, “the high schools, the parents, those obstinate republicans.” Poland according to Jacek from Lower Silesia, Poland, “gives math tests to seventh graders that high school teachers, never mind students cannot solve.”

Don’t forget those “Cadillac football stars,” reads another.  “We live in a society of glorified nitwits,” says furnmtz of Oregon. Feeling good about yourself yet? These days it is not enough to attend college or get good grades.

In other news, the school’s Board of Trustees just voted to raise the tuition rate for St. Mary’s College by 6 percent, meaning the cost of in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition will now be many more thousands of dollars.

You may wonder where all that money is going; surely with annual raises in tuition that money is going to be spent on the best educators and facilities for education, maybe even more money to spend on printing stuff or at least modernizing St. Mary’s College so students do not need to print so much stuff.

Removing piles of dirt or paying for more administration staff seem to be the last things anyone would guess, especially since the school is now outsourcing more services like transcript requests.

However, that is not the point I am trying to reach. More precisely, as these books/articles/comments all point to is one question: what is the point of college?

College, most people believe, is about learning stuff; however, they find out sooner or later that College is not about learning stuff but rather about spending money to get stuff.

Those Cadillac driving football stars?  You could be driving one of those Cadillacs, a new one, twice a year, for four years; Lil’ Wayne doesn’t even have that many.

So what is college? College is Cadillacs; it’s something you buy. Imagine you go to college for one year and you flunk out.  You’ve test driven the Cadillac and crashed it into a tree, now you have nothing but a handful of junk and a boatload less money.

So why do schools go easy on kids these days?  Because they realize that a college degree is a good, just like a Cadillac.  Consumers (us) today in America do not “go to college.” Instead we “pay for college,” and there is a difference.

Academic standards, the pursuit of knowledge; that was what college once was about.  Now higher learning has been replaced by the Leviathan of consumer culture. You pay a price and expect something in return; a college degree.

Colleges realize that there is incentive behind producing graduates. Flunking a bunch of people means they stop paying and less people show up to pay for a degree they are less certain to obtain, although they are paying an exorbitant sum of money.

College is a massive risk, more so than Las Vegas. Each year you are betting away your house, your future, for something that you do not know if you will be awarded.

So how do you get people to keep paying? Minimize the risk and let potential students know, if you attend our college, you will graduate with a degree in hand. As a result, academic standards and academic freedom go down.

Students are less curious and less passionate about learning when they know that the price of failure is equal to thousands of dollars of debt.

Herbert, book authors, and  commentators cite outcomes. Kids are studying less, and still getting degrees. Why? Do not look to the students, or the professors, or even the college loan institutions which have received so much bad press.

Look to the colleges who charge so much for school, thousands of dollars, fortunes to most people, and in turn provide college degrees that do not have a strong base in achievement.

So the Board recently voted for an increase in tuition of 6 percent. I would encourage them, if their goal is to produce academically talented and successful students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland to not raise that rate.

Rather they should cut it, so that students who come here and the parents that send them here will not feel the risk of failure – leaving the College much more leeway in determining the standards by which students should abide.

So often we are told to go ahead and fail, because failure is a learning experience and in the long run we will be more creative, more intelligent and more clever.  However, to most students going to college these days, the cost of failure far outweighs the benefit.


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