The Case for Higher Education
Recently, it was suggested to me, that higher education was merely another sect in the continual harming and diluted system of the public and private sector, that is pervasive throughout the United States. My first reaction was to firmly suggest that the gentleman was inaccurate and ignorant regarding higher education and its importance. Then, I began to think about individuals and groups experience with higher education, outside of my own; which then begged the question…is higher education, for the most part, a continuation of the system, which harms and factory-incentivizes students and people? Ultimately, I have come to a firm, no as my answer, but not without some qualifications. Let me explain.
My personal experience with higher education, outside of the two miserable years that I flunked out of community college, has been a great pleasure. Both at The Evergreen State College and at Goddard College, I found subjects I liked, intellectual stimulation, community involvement, student engagement and fascinating lectures, projects, seminar discussions, and openness. However, I recognize that very few are given this as their higher educational structure. The freedom, creativity, innovation, self-directedness and community involvement is a rare breed and most are confined to a conformity, tradition and continuation that simply replaces high school, with a larger, more complicated educational system.
However, I do think that there are a few things that make 4 year colleges and universities distinct from high schools. The first is the fact that no college or university is forced upon its student or personhood. The argument could be made that society has now gotten to a point where higher education study of some sort, in a formal sense, is necessary for a job, but it is not written in any state, as a law, that one must attend a higher educational institution. This is important, because it defines higher education as a choice and a conscious choice, made by the individual. This individualism, leads to the second point of distinction, which is the fact that, legally, the individual make the choice is an adult and ultimately, is responsible for the actions in which they take, including attending classes, paying tuition, living expenses and extracurricular activity.
The third point of distinction is the fact that most college age students live on or around campus. This is changing with the infusion of online courses, but for the majority, college is considered a time to leave the parents/guardians house, to live on campus or off, with people from different backgrounds, communities, diverse economic, ethical and multicultural perspectives and persuasions. Not only is your choice to attend, a free one, but it is an individual’s choice as an adult and includes responsibilities such as housing, food, clothing and timing.
In fact, if these three principles themselves were put into the K-12 system, it is my belief that it would be improved drastically overnight. However, it would still have the persistent problem of the studies in K-12. Many colleges and universities continue to run the industrial model for education, but the vast changes, in terms of experience, truly are transformational of a person, and learning is distinctive in that way.
One last distinction is that higher education gives the option to study abroad. This is hugely different than almost any K-12 system. This allows for the student to learn about cultures away from the confines of the college or university campus. Not only does this strengthen the cultural experience of the learner, but it changes geographically the ability from whence the learner is allowed to study.
So, perhaps, it is not so much that any of the lectures or tests that are taken in college are meant to be of much significance to one’s own learning, being, and doing (although the lectures, study groups and texts may do this), but rather, it is the cultural experience of college, that is very much distinctive from that of K-12, and far more helpful to a person’s belief, perspective, assumptions and understanding of the world.
Is it necessary that the transformational moments must come at an institute for higher learning? Certainly not! In fact, it may be the LEAST transformative place of a whole listing of ways to culturally, intellectually and experientially learn new and different, helping to change who we are. However, it is a way to do so. I will admit, it is an outrageously expensive way to do so, but nonetheless, it still has its value in learning.
Higher Education is not a learning vessel that takes you through every storm, assuring calmer seas on the other end, but it promises to be a vessel that will encounter its fair share rocky waves, giving each person a chance to be the captain.