A college education is sought after by more people than ever before. According to the New Yorker article “Live and Learn: Why We Have College” by Louis Menand, 68 percent of graduating high school students attend college and six percent of the American population is enrolled in college — which is a large percentage compared to a three percent enrollment rate in Great Britain and France. Ask most politicians, educators, parents, and students if there is value in a college education and expect them to know college grads get paid more than high school grads, get more job opportunities than those with less education, and gain more workforce skills than those who move directly to the workforce.
Menand is a college professor who has worked at both an Ivy League university and public universities. At the public institution his students frequently asked: “Why do we have to read this book?” and less frequently: “Why did we have to buy this book?” These questions, along with new research that’s recently been in the spotlight, moved him to find an answer. He found, however, that there is not one answer but multiple theories about what should be learned in college and how this learning can be measured.
Theory No. 1 is based on a meritocratic mode of thought. The subscribers of this theory believe:
- College is the tool that measures a person’s intelligence. Menand gives the example that it’s easy to pick out those with the best physical attributes or star athleticism just by looking at them. Intelligence isn’t easily identified. College is a 4-year IQ test that tests students in a variety of subjects, their intellectual ability, and soft skills. College is also an aptitude sorter. It efficiently separates the math students from the English students, and in the end, grades the student with a GPA that measures their professional and academic past and potential.
Theory 2 is based on a democratic mode of thought. The subscribers to this theory believe:
A college education levels the playing field. Students should attend college to get exposed to a multifaceted world with various experiences. When students attend college they get the socialization needed to succeed in the real world. Education, in this theory, is supportive of personal and intellectual growth.
The third theory sprouts from newer ideas of what higher education offers to today’s students and who those students are. Sixty-eight percent of high school students are heading to college, but the reality is 50 percent of college students dropout of college and 60 percent of students in two-year programs are required to take remedial courses. In the book Academically Adrift researchers found 45% of students didn’t improve in critical thinking skills from their freshman to junior year in college.
However, Menand argues that the lowest scoring and least improved students in critical thinking skills were business majors. Liberal arts majors are thought to score higher on critical thinking tests because they are required to read and write more than students in other studies. But why are there so many low-acheiveing business students? Because business students are doing the bare minimum to pass their general courses, like English comp and philosophy, so they can get a business degree and get a job.
Theory 3 explains how the college degree has become a vocational necessity.
College is a job requirement for everyone. Menand argues, “When Barack Obama and Arne Duncan talk about how higher education is the key to the future of the American economy, [business] is the sector they have in mind. They are not talking about the liberal arts.” Students who keep getting fed the idea that they don’t have a future without a college education will continue to enter college aimlessly, hike up their debt, and be a part of the 50 percent dropout rate.
Which theory do you believe best describes the education in public colleges? Would you prefer it to be something else? Do you have your own theories? Share in the comment box below.
Live and Learn: Why we have colleges: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/06/06/110606crat_atlarge_menand#ixzz1OMRjFI1A