Are colleges giving students a good value for their investment? What are individuals gaining from higher education? (179) These are some of the questions that authors Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, college professors, posed in an excerpt from their book, “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids-and What We Can Do About It. ” Unfortunately, their findings are grim. They feel that colleges “have lost track of their basic mission to challenge the minds of young people.
The authors make nine proposals that colleges may want to consider, beginning corrective action on delivering a better valued education. The proposal , “make students use their minds,” resonated with me the most. Hacker and Dreifus felt that students should become more thoughtful and interesting people while attending college. They go on to outline in this proposal that colleges should persuade students to choose impractical studies as a way to receive a better return on their investment.
That Liberal Arts programs produce more thoughtful and interesting people is a point well taken; but that it equates education with better value has not been substantiated. The value of anything is solely determined by the recipient. Redirecting students away from, and downgrading Vocational Programs does not ensure a good education. Most students would agree that the reason they are attending college is to prepare for a career. The statistic Hacker and Dreifus cite, that 64 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in vocational majors (180), supports this reasoning.
It is without question that impractical studies will challenge the mind, and foster creativity in students. However, to charge colleges with the mission to persuade students that the path to a valuable education is through impractical studies is presumptuous when it comes to value. Vocational studies do have value and should be treated with the same respect as Liberal studies.
If the authors’ research had gone beyond assumption and interviewed recent graduates of the two programs in question and then presented those results, more stock could be taken in swaying students towards impractical studies. By the time students have reached the end of their undergraduate studies, they know that repaying the accumulated debt is priority. Aligning one’s studies, whether impractical or vocational, with a career would result in a favorable disposition regarding value of the education one has received. This value motivates students to go in the first place.
Hacker and Dreifus say that students should become more thoughtful and interesting people while at college (180). For most, these two traits are innate. Only requiring development by parents during primary stages of life. The quest to become an interesting person is not learned in the classroom. If one’s primary goal in college is to become more interesting, they are wasting their money. Hacker and Dreifus ask what should happen to students at college. Simple, they should be gaining knowledge to help them become self-supported adults, productive members of society.
According to Hacker and Dreifus, the undergraduate years are an interlude that will never come again (180). However, there is not an optimal time to attain a college education. The best education is received by the person who wants it; age is irrelevant. While Hacker and Dreifus claim that the offspring of professional parents are the only ones seizing the opportunity of a valuable education, blue collar workers and the working poor will repudiate the idea that they are not rearing college bound students ready to answer the call of higher education.
There are many examples where the children of non-professional parents have succeeded in college. Being classified as poor or lower class is the very element that propels them to college to do better than their own parents. The upshot of all this is that the value of a college education is truly determined by the person who has acquired it, not by the amount of debts incurred to attain it, nor by what they chose to study.