The High Stakes of Higher Learning

The High Stakes of Higher Learning


The value and importance of a college education has undoubtedly been a pressuring factor in the minds of soon-to-be graduating American students for many decades now. We are encouraged from a young age to believe that our future success rests in the balance of our choices for continuing education beyond high school. Society remains persistent in convincing both parents and students alike that jumping straight to college after graduation defines the underlying criteria for achievement in the work force, the key to prosperity. But, what if this model isn’t meant to be one size fits all? This standard formula sometimes proves to cause more harm than good for many. A person’s accomplishments should be acknowledged on an individual basis, and so should their journey and choices made to achieve them. This reality reveals that higher education, viewed from our current perspective, might not be suitable for everyone.

Charles Murray touches on this issue in his essay, “Are Too Many People Going to College?” Murray questions the social expectation that everyone attend college. He believes that although all citizens should have a deeper understanding of core knowledge and an introduction to the liberal arts, it should ultimately be integrated into every student’s education before reaching high school. He argues that a four -year degree is not especially necessary for many vocations, nor does this degree guarantee better job placement with higher starting wages.

An opposing perspective to this theory is expressed in Sanford J. Ungar’s article, “The New Liberal Arts.” As the president of Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, Ungar is no doubt an advocate of the four- year liberal arts paradigm. He reasons that although many families have been strained by our current economic state, a college degree is still the best investment that can be made. According to him, a liberal arts degree enhances a person’s capability to relate to others, allows them to be more adaptable in the job world, and more well-rounded individuals overall. He also contests that it increases the probability of receiving employment in more highly technical, profitable jobs.

Ultimately, these two gentlemen’s opinions on the significance of pursuing a college-level education differ in a variety of ways. While Ungar insists that every person can benefit equally, Murray realistically perceives the concern as a matter of individual necessity. They both agree that liberal arts learning is fundamental to every person, but disagree on when and where it should be implemented. Though I endorse the ideology that everyone deserves an equal opportunity at a higher education, I stand with Murray. There are many valuable life tools one can acquire with college, but it is not the only path to attaining them, nor is it always the smartest choice.

It is indeed true that furthering education beyond the high school level has the potential to create many positive results. Obtaining a college degree undeniably promotes a promise that one’s ability to find a specialized job within a narrower field will improve. This typically signifies a larger initial hourly wage at a more established business that can provide other benefits and incentives. This is certainly an important perk, but if everyone is aiming for this goal then, consequently, competition for these positions increases. In turn, this leaves many people without the dream job they were guaranteed for their hard work. Furthermore, it contributes to a lack of motivation on the employers’ behalf. They aren’t as enticed to create high-paying, incentive-driven positions if the hiring pool is so abundant. A new basic standard is created as a result of a college degree becoming the average expectation. This affects everyone: those with a higher education and certainly those without.

Peering into this harsh reality leads us to the next problem associated with a college degree: student loan debt. If there’s no solid guarantee that a decent paying job will be awarded immediately after graduating, it’s overzealous to imagine any student will be able to start reimbursing loans borrowed while attending school. Considering the unreasonable, unaffordable tuition fees collected by every major university and community college, there is little probability that the better half of enrolling students aren’t being forced to take out loans. This leaves a large population of young adults with a substantial amount of debt before they’ve even started working a job that can comfortably sustain them. People are being forced into financial suicide with little choice.

Another issue arises when we examine this societal norm deeper. The standard model for the liberal arts education requires that students take a wide variety of classes from every different curriculum. This sometimes finds students forced to enroll in courses that they’re not interested in, have difficulty in, or don’t particularly excel in. If the subject matter is not directly relative to a person’s desired degree, they shouldn’t be required to take it. Many students feel discouraged with their performance in these classes, affecting their confidence, and possibly hurting their overall GPA as well. In severe cases, this could lead to a student dropping out of school, or at the least cause them to lose financial aid or scholarships if their grades fall below a certain average. This guideline can create a trap that sets even the hardest working student up for failure.

It is possible that some individuals could easily misunderstand these opinions and interpret them negatively. It’s not that college shouldn’t be an option for anyone and everyone who is interested in it, but we must accept the other opportunities available to further education. This specific method is not designed with compatibility in mind for the various types of learners out there. We want our future task force to be well educated, but we don’t want to give them only one option. Some people might benefit from more specialized schools or programs, specifically if they have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and what they’re passionate about. Not everyone needs the comprehensive four- year education, but instead could benefit more directly from a vocational or technical school. This produces results faster, allowing students to integrate into the work force sooner and with more drive. Currently there is very little, almost no, federally funded aid available to people who venture down this route. Remedying this could create a positive solution to the college predicament we currently find ourselves in.

Life is complicated enough, with inevitable twists and turns, pressures and demands, so why continue to let the choice to attend college be one of them? In this technological age we are blessed with a major network of resources and learning tools, all with the capacity to meet the needs of a variety of people. We should, as a society, broaden our outlook on issues of higher education to accept that there are numerous alternatives to our current perspective. In doing so we will contribute to the increased success of future generations, providing them with the choice to assess their own personal goals and needs, and an easier way to reach them. This issue is of significant importance because it directly affects the welfare and confidence of every new working-class individual. We should place less importance on what kind of education one pursues after high school, but rather respect whether it is suited for them. A life of equal opportunity and happiness is essential to a healthy society, resulting in honest and productive members. Changing the importance of a college degree from one of necessity to preference can make this quality of life more accessible to all.

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