Why do we go to college? If I were to ask someone that nowadays, they would probably look at me as if I were unlearned and respond “why wouldn’t we go to college?” The benefits of college have become such deep seated truths for many of us that we’ve stopped questioning them. We’re told college is an investment. We borrow large sums of money now to make larger sums of money later. We’re told college is formative. We leave more intellectual and responsible; we are the saving generation. But are these both really true? And what are the implications if they are not?
The whole investment argument is founded in receiving a degree. I think most of us agree that what’s actually important is what you learn in school, not a piece of paper saying you learned. But the degree unfortunately holds a lot of weight. With today’s online resources, you could teach yourself any subject, just as well as any undergraduate might have learned in school, but still be at a competitive disadvantage to them in the job market because you don’t have a degree. Consequently, the whole desire for a degree has become more driven by our survival instincts than anything else. We are told we will not be successful in this world or have economic security (stable food, shelter, attractive partner, etc.) without a degree and so we convince ourselves that we need one.
Now, that argument isn’t without its merits. According to a recent Huffington Post article, people with a college degree have half the unemployment rate as people with only a high school degree—though the article also points out that half of recent grads are working jobs that don’t actually require a degree. Even with this distinction, the competitive advantage in getting jobs with a degree makes it economically worth it.
The degree is not the only thing we go to college for though; college is also supposed to prepare us for the real world both in intellect and responsibility. In my two months of living here so far, I am feeling prepared intellectually. All of my classes are engaging and challenging and I’ve even been given the resources to start my own club about creating Android Apps, which is what I want to do professionally in the future.
In terms of responsibility, however, I could not feel farther from prepared. I feel more disconnected from the world than ever. People cook my food, wash my dishes, clean my bathroom—the only responsibility I can try to claim is doing my own laundry. My family did also cook my food, wash my dishes, and clean my bathroom for most of my life, but I still had to communicate with them and acknowledge them on a human level. I have yet to see anyone talk to, let alone thank, the guy who cleans my bathroom. Granted, I’ve only lived here two months, but I’m skeptical whether this actually changes later on in college.
This one-sided service breeds a scary amount of selfishness and entitlement. I talk with my friends about how atrocious those gated communities in, say, Florida—bubbles of homogenous wealth and culture—are. But is a college campus all that different? We’re separated from the rest of society (by a string in Brandeis’s case); we’re fairly politically homogenous; we’re all around the same age; and we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re the most in-tune with society that we’ll ever be.
We’re choosing to exist in this bubble because we love it. We love being distant from the responsibilities of the real world. We love only having to focus on ourselves. We love being around other people who love those same things. The college degree alone might be worth the economic expenditure, but maybe the loans aren’t the most crippling debt we accrue. We leave college entitled and expecting life to be served to us on a silver platter. The scariest part is that with our “top-tier” degrees, it probably will be.