Re: Why Do We Have College?

Today’s article still has to do with college, but now we’re discussing why students go to college. If you automatically say, “Everyone should go to college! We want smart people running this country!” read this New Yorker article by Louis Menand, then come back here.

I love, love, love Louis Menand’s use of “intelligence” in this article. There is no good way of defining intelligence, yet most intelligent people are “open-minded, outside-the-box thinkers, effective communicators,” and so on. However, he could have defined it to include all aspects of human life, not just learning. I know some people who are so amazingly good at interpersonal communication and networking. They’ve never been the “smart” kids in school, but they have skills that any employer would love to have. Unfortunately, these employers might never consider them because they don’t have a college degree. College may separate “aptitudes,” but most people know what they’re good at as early as middle school. They’ll say, “Oh, I suck at math”, or “English is too hard.” Some may not admit what they’re good at out loud, but they know how much work a subject or project takes to complete. True, their competence (or lack of) may be due to missing or unrefined skills (like Ms. L in “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower”). Unlike Ms. L, students who are intelligent want  to learn. They may get distracted or discouraged along the way, but most get better.

I think the grades in college should accurately reflect the student’s work and knowledge of the subject, not what they’ve learned. “Learning” is harder to quantify. You can ask students if they’re learning, but the better question would be if they apply what the teacher is teaching them to their own lives. Application would make the subject matter easier to remember. Ask them at the 50th Reunion what they learned. Was it a social or work related skill or the symbolic meaning of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy?

Not everyone should go to college. Your state trooper should not ticket you and discuss James Joyce with you as he writes it down. He should know basic communication skills, so he can write the application that gets him his job. Forcing people to go to college is the fastest way to inflate grades and lower averages. I don’t think high schools should force students to take AP classes unless they are ready. AP gives students great experience, but no matter how hard AP tries to be a college class, it isn’t. The people I mentioned above would be absolutely horrible in a college class. They’d be horrible in an AP class. Their intelligence isn’t demonstrable in a class setting. In the workforce, or on a creative team, would be a better place for them.

1. They wouldn’t come to class.

2. They wouldn’t do the homework because they’re busy outside of class.

3. They feel they’re just not good at at the class. The class may not let them demonstrate their abilities, or they are not the best at the subject matter.

I think you should go to college if you are in an advanced profession where you need to know very specific information relating to your job. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, social workers, teachers, and engineers need to know information beyond the high school level to do their jobs. You should also go to college to build a network and learn the skills related to your job. Making elementary school teachers study Calculus is just plain mean. I want to be a Strat Comm major, and I’m in the Advertising Club at Mizzou. Already, I’ve learned so much, but there’s still skills I need. I have the basics; I need to go deeper.

I don’t think we need college education for business, except business law and business management. The business world is not a classroom, and thus, preparation for business in college is skewed. Students spend too little time practicing and applying their skills. That’s why a trade or vocational school is a good idea for intelligent students who are either going into a field that doesn’t need basic courses to do their job or aren’t “book smart.” We shouldn’t hold them in any less regard for it.

In the last paragraph of “Death by Degrees,” the writer argues that we should start a revolution against college degrees at the top. The writer asks “the Democratic party to refrain from running any candidate for national office” with a degree “from an Ivy League school”. Who could imagine a president without a degree today? The arguments and political ads of the opposing side come to mind: “Candidate Bob fails his S.A.T.s and will fail America, too” or perhaps “does Jill know how to spell America?” They’d be turned away before they could even start. The mindset of most is that people who didn’t go to college are stupid. Well, if that’s true, college students are stupid, too, but in a different way. They’re up to their eyeballs in debt, and for what? A job that is supposed to double their income they might have earned if they worked, instead. What happens if there are no jobs? College students don’t have the right to demand jobs. They worked hard and spent their money, but going to college doesn’t guarantee a job. Education for those who want it is a right; jobs are not.

I don’t agree with all the points in the article but it does raise some questions. If college is becoming mandated, should something be done about the price? If not everyone is “smart” and is dropping out, should they be forced to take remedial classes? There’s no good answer to these questions. Perhaps the real question we should ask is: is college worth it? Are you ready?