We’ve written about college quite a bit here. We’ve spoken about students gambling on their grades, classroom behavior, and whether or not everyone belongs in school. But we’ve never spoken about how colleges are fundamentally changing.
The cost of college is outpacing inflation. Schools build new buildings, upgrade equipment, and bring in new faculty members each year. Hell, I just graduated in May. Most of my teachers are gone and I can’t name half the buildings. Colleges appear to be in great shape. Right?
Well, that depends how you look at it.
Dan Edelstein, a French professor at Stanford, bemoans the impending death of the liberal-arts education:
It has by now become received wisdom: college students today are less interested in traditional subjects, and have become more professionally oriented. They’ve voted with their feet, choosing business, pre-med, and engineering majors over German, art history, or comparative literature.
Colleges were created for a different reason, though. The founding statement of William and Mary, one of the oldest schools in the country, outlined its goals:
… to make, found, and establish a certain place of universal study, or perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences …
No one majors in English or classics any more. It’s just not practical when you’re facing a pile of debt alongside your diploma. Schools still offer liberal-arts educations, but they’re a thing of the past.
Students, Edelstein says, want to pay back their tuition right away. The fastest way to do this, presumably, is to obtain a practical, professional degree. The rising tuition costs often drive students to whatever major results in the biggest and fastest paycheck.
Now, there’s no statistical data to back this up, but it makes sense—almost too much.
Look at any senior class in their final semester. Outside of inhuman amounts of drinking, theme parties, and Sam Adams music (no longer a beer, but a quasi-rapper/pop star), there’s one thing second-semester seniors do: they freak out about jobs. Sure, there’s a good portion that will have locked down jobs or grad-school admission, but for the rest it’s a scramble for employment. Friends hate each other for getting jobs. No one can really let loose unless they finally feel set.
I was just there, and I (an English major? Ha!) felt the squeeze. It’s the most stressful semester at school, yet the least important academically. If school didn’t cost so much, would we see a different dynamic leading up to graduation?
There’s nothing wrong with working or pursuing a job after graduation. This is coming from the guy sleeping in his childhood bedroom on Long Island while all of his friends live in Boston. Maybe it’s hard for an 18-year-old to see it, but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with studying another language or culture instead of economics.
There is something wrong with colleges encouraging I-need-a-job-now anxiety and discouraging other fields of study. But they are—whether or not they know it.