Monday, December 7, 2015

The Redefinition of College Education: Last Words of a College Senior

Modern School
I have a sister in high school. I have talked with her and heard her express her concerns about her future, especially the pressures she feels to attend college even though she has no clue why she personally would want to. She knows that college could help her towards a good career but doesn’t know what career she wants. Although I know that college is a good means to a career, I don’t think a career is the central purpose of a college education. I propose a redefinition of what a college education is in order to help students like my sister make the decision to go to college without feeling the pressure of career-oriented college rhetoric.

Sarah’s SAT Story

High School Basketball Girl
Sarah wasn't the most interested student, but she was pretty excited going into her senior as a likely captain of the girls’ basketball team. Even though she was most interested in pep rallies and weekend bonfires this year, she couldn't help the insecurity she felt when her friends, teachers, and every adult she knew asked her what college she planned on going to after graduation. This insecurity pushed Sarah to look at some schools and she found a few that seemed to be a good match for her.

When she decided that she did want to apply for college—just in case—her teacher told her that the first thing she’d want to do was take the SAT, a standardized test that colleges used to objectively compare students from different schools and with different experiences, so Sarah decided to take an SAT prep course.

That first Saturday morning was a little too early for Sarah. When she walked in ten minutes late, Mrs. Brown was already talking to the group of students seated around lunch tables in the cafeteria. Mrs. Brown continued,

"…So, this SAT preparation course will be very helpful to you. The most important thing to remember is that the SAT doesn't test your readiness for college; it tests your ability to pass the SAT. The tests are created by full-time test developers, not teachers. So as much as the SAT is good for college admissions boards, the test may not be the best assessment of a student."

When Sarah returned home, she couldn’t get what Mrs. Brown has said out of her mind, “…the SAT doesn’t test your readiness for college.” To Sarah, a required test to get into college that didn’t assess college readiness seemed like a waste of time. She wondered what that meant about college. Would those four years also be a waste of her time?

Sarah’s story is one that is familiar to high school students who feel the pressure to attend college from educators, advisers, and parents alike, but many don’t have the interest and others don’t see the point. Problematically, many of these fence-sitting students still enroll and are often disillusioned by their experience—even those who make it to graduation. Although many believe and reliable data suggests that a college education is the most efficient pathway toward a stable career, pressure from educators, peers, and parents can lead students down an academic trail of disappointment instead of intellectual enlightenment. Students who are considering furthering their education need to know three things: 1) what they hope to get out of college, 2) if college will realistically give them what they want, and, if the answer to number two is “yes,” 3) if the pros are worth the cons of college.

College Education in History

The online article, "The Surprising Origin on Modern Education," states that Academia was an idea founded by the Greek philosopher Plato with the intention to open the minds of the students. However, with the passing of time and the movement of political control to new governments, the idea of academy was used for purposes other than enlightenment. Education eventually became a means to engraining Pagan ideas into the malleable minds of children. From there, it became a means to indoctrinating any idea into the minds of children. The article states, "Children are not taught to think—but to take orders—be followers, not leaders." A college education does allow undergraduate students to grow intellectually, but, keeping in mind the history of academia, the education provided in undergraduate studies may not be free of empty rhetoric and biased content. If a student’s goal is true enlightenment, college may not be the best option for education because that education may be focused on another end.

While the conception about modern education is that it opens minds to possibilities, academia has a long history—we’re talking 2,000+ years—of closing minds to standard ways of thinking. When asked about higher education, Mike Riggin, the head of recruitment at Pacific Northwest University, said that although some of the education may seem to be of little value or even simply another hoop to jump through, our society values the completion of the "education" enough that it is worth it. He said, "It doesn't matter what you study. Another degree equals another $50,000 you will make in your lifetime, and that's the role of education in our society."  Although reliable data supports Mr. Riggin’s claims, when the cost of tuition is factored into account, the total net monetary gain from each degree attained by a student may actually find itself in the red. It is mind-closing rhetoric like this that pushes fence-sitting students to pursue a college degree without considering other possible options for education or careers. Academia is a proven, established pathway toward education and career, but it is important for students to weigh in the cons when considering the pros of a college education.

The Misconception of a College Education

College Freshman Meme
College can be a great opportunity and experience for students if they realize that, in spite what it is marketed as, college is just that: an opportunity and an experience—not a ticket. When the question, “What are you majoring in?” is followed by the question, “What do you want to do with that?” it becomes clear that students generally have the idea that college is the “pearly gate” to a career and nothing more. Students are being taught this before college even becomes a goal or a viable option in their minds. From educators and even their own parents, many students learn from an early age that college is the “straight and narrow” to a good job. What this idea forgets is that, unless the college offers some sort of placement guarantee, getting the good job after graduation is the responsibility of the graduate, not the college. Many college graduates feel the disillusionment of returning to menial jobs after college when they thought that college was the ticket to a comfortable career. It turns out that college wasn’t what they had been sold, didn’t give them what they expected, and the additional work needed to achieve their goals is more than they would like.

College should really be about the betterment of the student through true education, which is why students would benefit from the redefinition of a college education. Instead of being considered a series of hoops to jump through on the path to a comfortable lifestyle, college should be seen as a true education. It was Plato who created academia with the purpose of educating individuals and Plato who knew that true enlightenment was a difficult task. He knew that as we begin to see the light, it is painful and blinding, but it also leads to the examined life that Socrates spoke of, the one really worth living. Through this redefinition, students will know exactly what college is and be able to identify how college will contribute to their goals. There can be no disillusionment because students will know what to expect and their decision to pursue a college education must be based on their own calculations of pros and cons and not on anyone else’s rhetoric.

The Final Words of a College Senior

Lazy College Senior Meme
My personal experience in college has lead me to believe that college isn’t about getting a job; however, I won’t say that “it’s so much more that that” either. College simply is something different: no better no worse. I hope my redefinition of higher education will persuade those who are considering pursuing higher education to evaluate their goals and how college can contribute to those goals, and measure out the pros and cons of college as the means to that end. By focusing on the true value of a college education and steering away from the idea that college is the passageway to a comfortable career and lifestyle, students will become enlightened individuals and avoid the disillusionment of today’s career education.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Herbert W. "The Surprizing Origin of Modern Education." The Trumpet. The Philadelphia Church of God, Dec. 1999. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
Riggin, Mike. "Education in Society." Telephone interview. 11 Nov. 2015.

Image Credits

College Freshman Meme (Variation). Digital image. Frabz. Funky Llama Productions, LLC, 2015. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
Gatto, John Taylor. Modern School. Digital image. Mission Galactic Freedom. Wordpress, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
Riggin, Kekoa. Lazy College Senior Meme (Variation). Digital image. Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc., 10 Nov. 2012. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
Prause, Kyra. High School Basketball Girl. Digital image. Facebook. Kyra Prause Photography, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.

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