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Two Tall Voices: Does everyone need a college education?

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: Opinions


We have no idea how fortunate we are. If you are reading this article you are probably a Brandeis student, and having this classification entitles you to amazing educational opportunities. There are roughly 3,000 colleges and universities in this country. Since Brandeis is currently ranked 31 by U.S. News and World Report, this makes us in the top 1 percent of colleges in the nation. Then, factoring in that only 30 percent or so of Americans have a B.A. degree, you can definitely gauge how lucky you are indeed.

Seeing how we are at the very top of the higher education pyramid, I have become extremely skeptical about the learning that occurs at the lower end of the spectrum. I see people cutting corners here, leaving their studies by the wayside, and can only conclude that it must be worse at the 99 percent of other universities in the country.

I wasn’t thinking about writing an article on this topic, but a conversation I had with a professor intrigued me enough to convey my views in this medium. I hope I don’t misrepresent his views, but this professor is optimistic about prospects at these other universities, and in all honesty, he has the experience and background to make such a judgment. Furthermore, he says that students at these institutions are committed, energized, and completely competent at their academic work. His beliefs are totally legitimate and completely reasonable, and discussing this topic with him has been quite enjoyable. In order to continue the conversation, I’d like to convey my own views, so that others may also chime in on this worthy intellectual topic.

I would first like to state that I believe that there are too many universities in this country. I also believe that there are too many people obtaining B.A. degrees as well. Why must one go to college to be a field hand, why must an auto mechanic focus in the liberal arts? People in this country can obtain well paying and reputable blue-collar jobs without higher education, and are perhaps pressured to obtain college degrees.

This seems inefficient, because far fewer people tangibly require higher education than are receiving it. Furthermore, there are way too many two-bit universities in this country, which are more often than not diploma-mills rather than actual institutions of higher learning. Some colleges offer pole dancing as a credit-bearing course, while people can get B.A.s in a number of useless and un-academic concentrations. Some may believe that higher education provides positive benefits to society, as educated citizens can contribute more to our nation. I positively agree with this sentiment, but believe that this mission is achieved in high schools, and a saturation of B.A. degrees is extremely wasteful.

It is true that a university is primarily judged on the quality of students that attend it. Class discussions, out of class interactions, and other worthwhile experiences can all be enriched if the student body of a university is committed to the academic mission at hand. For a bunch of reasons, I do not believe that the students at a number of other universities provide the foundation for this enrichment to occur.

From what I understand, and from what my friends tell me, people at lesser-regarded institutions believe college as a 4-year party fest. People cheat, cut corners and don’t seem interested in intellectual enrichment. And some of these schools only nurture this behavior with the institutionalization of online classes and other “new-age” measures. All that this does is take students farther from the classroom, open up entirely new avenues for cheating, and limit the interactions between students, their peers, and professors.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of students at Brandeis who seem unconcerned with their academics and simply want to party during these formative years of their youth. But I would proffer that there be less of those individuals at our university and this is one reason why we are receiving an unparalleled education.

I know that many of you may have wanted me to tackle a more controversial subject. This topic, however, is a subject on which I have pondered extensively, and I am happy to have been given the chance to convey my beliefs. I encourage all of you to discuss this topic, rethink your assumptions and otherwise muse on the condition of higher education in our country. Most of all, I hope all of you appreciate the educational opportunity Brandeis has given you, and I hope you utilize it to the fullest of your ability.