College isn’t just a place to pursue intellectual passions; it provides the unique opportunity to become a more complete, adult human being.

Anyone with access to the Internet knows the image: freedom, life-long friendships, crazy ragers, self-actualization – “The College Experience.” Challenging courses push you to your intellectual limits. Manicured lawns and provocative architecture infuse each day with beauty. Party culture provides opportunities to obtain glory, assert abstinence and reassess ideals. The high concentration of young, relatively homogenous peers facilitates sexual discovery, opening new forms of romance and regret.

Most importantly, friends that understand fundamentally make their way into your life, affecting how you see, think and feel. The four-year on-campus, university experience is special. It expands horizons, cultivates intellect, and develops empathy.

A university education can enjoyably stimulate radical transformation; however, the belief that the four-year on-campus experience will do so in a necessarily exceptional way, though widely held, is false. This myth of “The College Experience” exists on two levels: positively, in that the 4-year on-campus experience accomplishes the aforementioned goals, and normatively, in that it’s accomplishment of these goals makes it good and desirable over other options.

There are many great discussions on the potential shortcomings of the on-campus experience. I will focus on two. First, despite major strides in racial and gender diversification, universities still tend to cater to relatively homogenous groups. Wealthy students concentrate in ivy leagues. Traditional-career- and status-minded students drift towards Georgetown. Radicals go to Tufts or Bard. Students with histories of success tend to end up in high-profile schools or honors programs. Nearly everyone is under the age of 25.

Though strong, transformative bonds are formed in universities, they are often with people who have lived similar lives or have similar goals. There’s a reason words like “bum” and “loser” remain acceptable pejoratives among the intellectual, pluralistic rising elite. The university experience may succeed in opening our minds to many concepts, but it does so in an ivory bubble.

Second, other non-congruent higher education paths may produce the same positive outcomes as the 4-year on-campus education. Though part of the University of Buenos Aires, La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras functions very differently than the typical U.S. residential college. The campus is a block long concrete edifice, containing all of the classrooms and office of the undergraduate and graduate programs. Non-affiliated vendors sell food and supplies in the hallways, and anyone can come in to sit, sleep, or smoke. Most students live with their parents or families and almost all (students and professors) work part or full time jobs outside of the university. The school is composed of individuals with complete and subtle identities separate from their studenthood.

Taking courses over a 5-year period, those on the philosophy track wrestle with difficult concepts and craft friendships with people of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and previous-success histories. Groups of faculty and students meet after class to discuss abstract concepts and plan political action. Innumerable layers of organizational flyers cover the walls.

All of this occurs outside of the on-campus, university experience, yet it all leads to personal growth and development. Even if the positive claim of “The College Experience” is true, the status of its normative claim must be contested. Even if the university experience is all its cracked up to be, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should pursue it.

These and other challenges do not prove the four-year on-campus experience inferior or undesirable, but they complicate the picture. The university is a form of cloister, and the experiences gained, though valuable to each individual, may not be intrinsically better than the potential experiences gained from more worldly paths.

This complication is significant. If the on-campus, university experience is not an apodictic good, the effects of its pursuit and appraisal become relevant. If “The College Experience” really is myth, we must concern ourselves with its consequences.

Grounded, we proceed to University Education. University Education is post-secondary tuition in primarily theoretical material, offered by a collegium of experts in exchange for remuneration. It is crucial to the survival and advancement of theory-heavy professions (e.g. law, scientific fields, theological fields), and a structure through which to pursue intellectual obsessions. “The College Experience” affects it on three levels.

  1. Perverted Perspective

Under “The College Experience” paradigm, potential undergraduates are faced with a stark decision: Go to college or miss out on major life experiences. To enter the work world immediately is to remain close-minded, un-critical and un-refined. Rather than simply representing an opportunity to learn advanced concepts, University Education becomes a rite of passage, making men out of boys and Ms.’s out of Miss’s. Parents face social pressure to insure their children reach maturity. Secondary education becomes “college prep.”

Theoretically, this leads to increased demand for University Education, and declining social and economic status for those who fail to accomplish it. The facts seem to corroborate. There has been an increase in demand for university education that seems to goes beyond that reasonably instigated by economic factors.

As enrollment in four-year institutions increases, job over-qualification is on the rise and nearly 30 percent of Associate’s degree recipients out earn their Bachelor’s-receiving peers. Furthermore, the past decades have seen the value of the high school diplomas plummet while degree-values remain constant. More potential students and their parents are purchasing educations that they may neither desire nor need. Those unable or unwilling to buy into the myth are castigated. “The College Experience” shifts the public understanding of University Education, working to make it into a signal of status, maturity, and ability.

  1. Decreased Quality

As demand increases, universities seek to increase capacity and maintain desirability/perceived status with limited funds. To do so effectively, they devote disproportionate portions of their budgets to new facilities, renovations, and amenities. Beautiful environments, spaces to socialize, and safe liberty are all necessary parts of the university experience. To keep brining in students (i.e. eventual donors) Georgetown has to remain beautiful. This is problematic as it corresponds with a lack of investment in teaching (photo, economist).

Hired professors have to deal with decreased effort and less compensation per student. Since, for students, college is the time for transformation there is increased pressure to do. Networking, clubs, internships, romances, metropolitan exploration, social activities, working out, and extra-extra curricular goals all vie for priority with class. Going to class hung-over becomes a reasonable when party experiences are unique; and, to an extent, they are. Modes of freshman socialization can be epic, and absolutely unacceptable outside of the university sphere. There is serious conflict between academic and non-academic success.

Lower expectations hurt the academic progress of all students. For example, grade inflation makes it even harder to differentiate between high-performing students, and fails to provide struggling students with accurate feedback. I have multiple academically successful friends that haven’t started a paper more than a day in advance since sophomore year. There is no reward for an out-of-the-park essay, and there are other actualizations demanding their attention. Meanwhile, economics students can scrape by with a B+ knowing less than half the material on a final. “The College Experience” directly detracts from the education process, decreasing relative expenditures on teaching, drawing students away from material, and encouraging professors to lower expectations.

  1. Increased Cost

Finally, increased demand allows for increased prices. With excessive numbers of applicants, universities can charge ridiculously high sticker prices. Though there are hypothetical ways to make increased tuition fees work for economically disadvantaged students the reality is increased debt. As universities attempt to remain attractive to academically successful students, provide inefficient services, build unnecessary facilities, and give the receipt to their undergrads. Insofar as “The College Experience” forces students who (a) would flourish outside of the university environment, (b) have little personal desire to continue education, and (c) do not flourish in or enjoy the post-secondary classroom to apply and attend 4-year institutions, it make University Education more costly to obtain for everyone.

This cost isn’t just monetary. Having to pay back debts influences course of study and class-networking balance, and the threat of paying back debts leads to greater economic segregation among universities.

Reduced to their premises, many of the arguments presented here are hypothetical, but I honestly believe that, treated charitably, they provide a good starting point for discussion. The myth of “The College Experience” ruins university education. Affirm or negate, the choice is yours!

 

David Edgar is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Resolved appears every other Wednesday at thehoya.com. Join the Philodemic Society this Thursday at 8 p.m. in Healy 208 as they debate “Resolved: The myth of the ‘College Experience’ ruins university education.”

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