Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

College: another institution to be wary of?

CJ Westerberg, April 3, 2011 6:47 PM


"Since when have colleges become so controversial?
They used to embody humankind at its most elevated;
now, they're just another institution to be wary of."

An Anti-College Backlash?

Great, big fat conversation going on over at The Atlantic, titled, "An Anti-College Backlash?"  Sounds like a disconnect about expectations, not just costs.
Here's a glimpse:

Americans are finally starting to ask: "Is all this higher education really necessary?"

Since the appearance in The Atlantic of my essay "In The Basement of the Ivory Tower" (2008), in which I questioned the wisdom of sending seemingly everyone in the United States through the rigors of higher education, it's become increasingly apparent to me that I'm far from the only one with these misgivings. Indeed, to my surprise, I've discovered that rather than a lone crank, I'm a voice in a growing movement.

I hadn't expected my essay, inspired by the frustrations of teaching students unprepared for the rigors of college-level work, to attract much notice. But the volume and vehemence of the feedback the piece generated was overwhelming. It drew more visitors than almost any other article on the Atlantic's web site in 2008, and provoked an avalanche of letters to the editor. It even started turning up in the syllabi of college writing classes, and on the agendas of educational conferences.

 In the months and years since then - and especially now, as I prepare to add to the critical tumult with a book expanding on that original article - I find myself noticing similar sentiments elsewhere. Is it merely a matter of my becoming so immersed in the subject that I'm seeing it everywhere? I don't think so. Start paying attention, and it becomes readily apparent that more and more Americans today are skeptical about the benefits of college.

What caught our attention was the anonymous author's reminiscing about college life in the 70's . . .

I attended college in the 1970s, when higher education wasn't newsworthy. When you went away to college, you really went away.  . .

Colleges were viewed, in the main, as a hiatus from the real world. In my cinderblock dormitory, I watched no television and read no newspapers.  . .  I spent four leisurely years imbibing great books and ideas. I could write a good literature paper--it seemed one of the few things I was suited to do--so a degree in English was my destiny. In those days, college was a lot cheaper, so I didn't rack up much debt. I knew my degree wouldn't get me a job, but no one had promised that it would. It wasn't as though the college was hoodwinking me. . . .

Twenty years later, I found myself teaching part-time at a small private college, and I was struck by the extent to which the institution had changed. College wasn't the old place of retreat and meditation that I remembered--a place to quietly condition one's mind with four years of intellectual crunches and sets and reps. It no longer seemed that intellectual a place at all. Now it was a place where students accumulated credits to advance at their jobs. . . .

Full story here.

Also see from The Atlantic:
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a "college of last resort" explains why.

The Truth About Harvard: It may be hard to get into Harvard, but it's easy to get out without learning much of enduring value at all. A recent graduate's report. By Ross Douthat

What Does College Teach? It's time to put an end to "faith-based" acceptance of higher education's quality. By Richard H. Hersh

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