Want to Learn? Don’t Go to College
PF: Nadia Jones, a homeschooler who is now a working adult, is a guest blogger for me today.
For many in the United States of America, going to college has been considered a stepping stone to making money, despite the fact that hardly any of the skills one learns in college has any bearing on the daily tasks required of most jobs, even high-paying ones. The other, learning-based view of college is that a higher education is necessary in a civic sense—it helps mold young minds to think critically, to become more knowledgeable and sensitive about the world within them and around them. This has been the traditional (though now in our technocratic age, obsolete) view of the necessity of college.
As someone who has been to college, I can say without hesitation that neither objective was achieved after I graduated from a top-twenty liberal arts school only a few years ago. As an English major, I was not prepared for the job market in the slightest, unless you count learning to please superiors by agreeing with their point of view as an employable skill. Using the more traditional view of the importance of a higher education, the one that I believe in more whole-heartedly, I was equally disappointed. All the promises they fed me since orientation about being a scholar, about learning to think for myself, ended up being a beer-soaked, mind-numbing process of learning how to navigate the system.
This is how it works—you choose a few classes that sound interesting or that meet requirements. You attend them whether or not you feel like it. You work really hard to make good grades your first semester until you realize that there’s this thing called grade inflation. Grade inflation, a phenomenon in which higher grades are given for work that would have received lower grades in the past, is increasing rapidly, as noted in this New York Times article. The result is that we students learn that you don’t have to work hard, to improve over time, or to do anything really except to “win over” the professor.
Professors, whose performance (and pay) are increasingly being evaluated based on student reviews, and whose research dominates their professional lives, have no incentive to direct their students to achieve the goals of learning and critical thinking. As such, the student-professor relationship has become one that is based on a radical free-market ideology. Instead of students and professors, we have customers and salespeople. In this environment, the only positive outcomes are that students meet others who are much like them—reasonably smart but overly-opportunistic, entitled young men and women whose idea of success is going through the motions of college, grubbing for grades, going to parties, making friends, and networking for that high-paying job. In the process, learning is sacrificed.
Now do I regret having attended an institution of higher education? Not necessarily—I did have fun. But the fun incurred is not worth the student debt that now cripples my finances. I learned more by reading on my own before and after college than I ever learned in any of my classes. Even if college used to be a place where one could leave having learned to think and to evaluate independently, a college education in America now is nothing more than a four-year summer camp after which you earn a credential that everyone says you must have in order to succeed.
I question this logic, however, because I know several people, both friends and family members, who never went to college and are smarter, more enterprising, and dare I say, more successful, than 90% of the people I know who hold bachelor’s degrees. If you have an interest in working in academia, then yes, a college education is necessary. But for almost any other goal in life, whether personal or professional, it won’t help you much except to dig you deeper in debt. Trust me, I know.
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, and movie-related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.