By Andy J. Joppa
A recent guest commentary asked, “Is a college education worth the big bucks?” This question is similar to asking, “Is buying a book worth the money?” Obviously that question cannot be answered unless we know which book, its topics and how well they’re handled.
So it is with a college education.
There are some career fields where a college degree is critical; medicine, law and engineering, are but a few examples. In these professional areas the answer is generally, “Yes, a college education is worth the bucks.”
If we erroneously presume, however, that the foremost purpose of a college education is to make someone employable we are missing the most significant reason to go to college.
In the past, the rationale in attending college was to broaden the perspectives of an individual by making them less parochial and better able to make appropriate life choices in a complex world (I would note that most colleges fail at satisfying even the secondary purpose of preparing the graduate for employment.)
I would always tell my students that the central reason to obtain a college degree was to better prepare them to take advantage of the potentials of their unknown future. No matter how well they plan; no matter how purposefully they focus, life will always have a tremendous degree of serendipity. Opportunities will arise and moments will occur where wise decisions have to be made and skills have to be made manifest. A college education should prepare a graduate to be able to respond.
But, just what is it that comprises a valuable college education? While the answer can be debated there does seem to be at least some minimal requirements. A college education should represent an understanding and acceptance of the following:” the laws of logic; the concept of causality and of a universe ruled by natural laws intelligible to man; on these foundations, the whole known body of the laws of mathematics and science; the individual’s self-responsibility based on their free will to choose between good and evil. In addition, the importance of visual arts and literature depicting humans as capable of facing the world with confidence in their power to succeed.”
This was but the bare minimum.
I would suggest that the majority of our universities do not fulfill even these minimal requirements. It must, therefore, be understood that the actual question should be, “Are our colleges supplying the student with the essential tools for their future, or are they immersing them in useless programs of personal identity with little purposeful content.”
College, which had served the purpose of removing individuals from their parochialism, now, all too often, serves almost the exclusive purpose of having students deepen the limitations they had when they entered the college environment.
These graduates are left vulnerable to the fact that they do not have any real understanding of anything other than their own group identity and, of course, social media and faculty ideological eccentricities. The university that should be espousing intellectual neutrality and creating purposeful life values, instead assails the student with empty courses of dubious value.
“Is a college education worth the bucks? Absolutely Yes! But only with the proviso that the college is offering an educational experience in which students are induced to surrender their own egocentric view of life and move into a broader and more comprehensive view of reality.
I must emphasize that whether or not a graduate gets a job as a derivative of attending college, the experience must always leave them enhanced, feeling that they are stronger, more able human beings, better able to deal with life’s challenges and better able to understand life’s problems. If this also gets them a position making great money, then, all the better. “Personal expansion” remains, however, the overwhelming benefit that a college must provide. Certainly the bills must be paid, but many of life’s joys do not depend on top end pay; in fact most don’t.
I advise students and/or their parents to determine the nature of the university they are thinking of attending. Do not presume that colleges see their job as the creation of a truly educated graduate. All too many universities in our “Brave New World” are trying to produce empty robotic plug-ins for our rapidly deteriorating culture. That model is not worth the “big bucks,” or any bucks. Curriculum should not be driven by students or by faculty, but only by the demands of objective reality.
Joppa retired after 30 years as a faculty member in business and economics from Mercy College in Westchester, N.Y.