Tuesday, November 8, 2011

College and Learning

There seems, out there in the great big world, a growing buzz that college diplomas are not offering all the same benefits they once offered. Politicians, journalists, and college students themselves have been more vocally criticizing high prices and less robust returns on those prices over the last few months. You can see it in such varied forums as OWS rallies and Republican presidential candidate debates. An interesting article from the New York Review of Books discusses a point made by the authors of Academically Adrift:

For most of them, in the end, what the university offers is not skills or knowledge but credentials: a diploma that signals employability and basic work discipline. Those who manage to learn a lot often—though happily not always—come from highly educated families and attend highly selective colleges and universities. They are already members of an economic and cultural elite. Our great, democratic university system has become a pillar of social stability—a broken community many of whose members drift through, learning little, only to return to the economic and social box that they were born into.

 I put the italics in because this just strikes me as one of the most patently obvious issues with our education system. College for many people is not a place to aspire to learn, but a place to earn the right to get a better job. And it would be crazy for us to be surprised by this because this is exactly how we sell college as a social institution. "A college degree is the ticket to a better future... college graduates earn x% more than non-college grads... the opportunities afforded you by college." These are things you hear. You do not hear things like "college is a place to help you be a more reasonable, critical, and thoughtful human being." Why? Probably because there is no certain profit in that.

1 comment:

Nate said...

Three things strike me about this post:

1. If I was to become a more reasonable, critical, thoughtful human being, I should probably expect to be paid more in a better job than if I were less so.
2. Selling college diplomas based on the 'make more money' mantra seems to be a shorthand way of explaining #1.
3. It's fascinating to me that such a special case is made of college degrees when there are clearly diminishing returns in nearly all employment related areas to include pension contributions, investment portfolios, housing, employer subsidized health benefits, and gross pay.

I think the only thing I have today that is worth more than I paid for it is my Prius, and that's only because I bought it used.


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