Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hating College

I am amazed at the number of college students who despise going to college and are only doing so because of social/family pressures and their desire to "have a good job."  When I survey any given class the vast majority admit that they are essentially in college because they feel they have to be, and that they are only enduring college because they think it is their ticket to a more lucrative future. They admit to no intellectual curiosity and find the whole experience mind numbing. Admittedly my sample is skewed and I have no idea what students would be like in the physical sciences.  I have a theory though that there is a correlation between ACT and IQ scores and satisfaction with college as an intellectual experience but presently I have no data to support it.

With college rapidly becoming the new high school more and more people are coming to college that are marginally qualified by inclination and aptitude to attend.  These students are in a kind of vocational holding pattern as they put in their time to get their ticket punched so they can enter the adult work force.  In the meantime they take out student loans and work at low paying jobs in order to pay their way. What does this do to the college experience?

Do not be fooled.  Qualitatively there is a difference between the college graduate of today and the one of ten or more years ago.  The discourse and milieu of the current classroom is controlled not by students who are there to learn but by those who are there to endure.  To most students today the college experience is an obstacle they must navigate with guile and cunning so they can "get on" with their real life.  Grade inflation is in fact a result of what happens when the ideal of college is marketed with such spectacular success that college is seen as a necessity for even a modicum of success, and that in a society where success is mostly equated with higher incomes. 

This is at a time when the cost of college continues to rise much faster than the cost of living while institutions of higher learning show little propensity, or skill, in curbing the rising cost by focusing on the core mission of education.  Colleges are increasingly guilty of mission creep where the educational experience is subjugated to supplemental services while the growth in faculty numbers is fabulously dwarfed by the growth in staff.  Colleges and universities have recently been forced to cut expenses because of the current recession but these revised budgets have included continued increases in tuition which are funded primarily through student loans.

When a student graduates from high school there are few jobs for them and most have been led to believe that their future happiness is best served by obtaining a college degree.  There are "statistics" to support that claim but I am suspicious of those numbers.  I do not think there is a direct cause and effect connection but that something else is happening.  I suspect that those same persons without a higher education would have made more money than their unschooled peers for other reasons than having a college degree, and that those who do not have a college degree remain at a lower income level for reasons other than not having a college degree.  Many students leave college and enter jobs for which they could have been trained in much less time and with much less expense had other options been available to them.

I do not think the college degree, at least as I envision it, was ever intended to be the universal experience that we are making it.  It is like assuming that everyone who played high school sports is capable of  performing at the level required for college.  Also,I find it highly ironic that we are sending more and more students to college when the public education system is vastly inadequate and incapable of turning out students who are truly prepared to enter institutions of higher learning.  What to do?

The biggest culprit is student loans which are a racket.  Student loans guaranteed by the government are no longer the good deal they used to be but financial traps.  Colleges and universities can count on a seemingly endless supply of tuition monies funded by student loans and have no incentive to cut costs and lower tuition. Currently, colleges and universities have no incentive to restrict the flow of students through their doors despite the empty rhetoric to the contrary.  The next culprit is that we have no alternatives for young people and have created a myth that everyone is both obligated and capable of attending college no matter what.  Let me end with a true story.

Several years ago I had a student in one of my classes that was having some extreme difficulties. That student showed me their Individual Education Plan from high school and their paper work from the Missouri Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.  Both documents confirmed that the student was mentally retarded.  Think about the implications of this last example and what it means.


-C... said...

Great post Mike and as usual you are on point.

I agree, with you, that not everyone needs college and that a higher education in the panacea that our country needs.

Many great alternatives and careers are made through military service - I think too many people have overlooked how service aids a young person and allows them to truly set their own priorities.

I know from personal experience, that my military service helped to define me and allow me time to grow as a person.

Take care and keep the great posts coming.

mike said...

I agree about military service. It also helped me to grow up and made me a better, and wiser, person.