I was on my way back to college. My cool, oldest sister helped me pack up the car and drove me to campus where we instantly found ourselves at orientation rallies and wondering residential halls. I sadly noticed the environment had changed. One dormitory added an entire section on the bottom floor for school apparel, floor to ceiling, replacing dorm rooms to profit on swag sales. The men were much older but still handsome which was odd but good. The campus was vibrant yet I felt reluctant to move in for the year, especially since I was a senior having to room with a freshmen. Then I remembered I had already been a senior. I had already gone through commencement. Really, what was I doing here since I had already graduated?
Strange dream but considering college basketball has invaded my world in the form of March Madness, I could rationalize a connection. Bright lights, underclassmen, handsome older men watching the game – I get it. Lying in bed, I thought about how different college is for students today. I can cheer for a school’s team but the issue of student debt plays out regularly on the daily news. I must have been in too many conversations with peers and siblings regarding the issue and, like a rogue radio wave, my subconscious drifted back to school. Or, maybe, the romanticism of college life has disappeared. I just don’t know how people manage paying for college these days. The financial expense is astronomical which puts pressure on students to major in something that has an immediate positive return on their family’s investment. I always accepted that higher education operated as a business but the machine of universities with their teams, apparel, branding, and high tuition has gone into over drive.
Take the selection of degrees. Five years ago my own school had asked for my participation on my educational experience in the Liberal Arts. They asked why I chose my concentration, how it applied to my career, and what advice I would give to encourage students in the same discipline. Studying anything but business was a dying passion particularly for parents footing the bill. Evidently, surveys indicated parents did not want to pay tuition for anything other than that which would make their child successfully employable upon graduation. Not that having your kid successfully employable ever wasn’t a consideration by parents but employment and money is much more limited today. The loans taken out need to be paid back and having a theater student out of work after college isn’t exactly a path for economic success.
I think about that now as I look around at the business world I am in. If I had dime for every unhappy accountant or frustrated finance manager I have met, I would be rich (or even richer if I invested at a high interest bearing account or in the recent stock market rally). I once heard a presentation on public radio from a psychiatrist discussing people’s source of unhappiness. He stated those that worked with money were most unhappy because they never felt an achievement to the end of their pursuits. Working with money never ended but cycled. One was never finished. Those words have always stayed with me and I see their truth.
I understand the motivations for educational institutions to be profitable and I understand students and parents wanting a degree worth the money they spent. Pressures are on both sides to cater to the young adult’s helicopter parents’ satisfaction as well as attracting enough students at high costs. I wonder if the point of broad educational experience is being lost. Some individuals are better at constructing a story than examining a balance sheet. Social scientists, historians, and poets should never be replaced by financial analysts who have a steady income. They couldn’t, truly, because not all minds are wired to be business people. And thank goodness because we need both and not every profession measures success by a bank account.
It is no secret that a Liberal Arts degree is considered less of a need when the payoff is unclear. Universities attempt to supply to the need of their consumer but I have a difficulty comprehending why tuition is the same regardless of studies. Maybe they fear cheapening their school brand would diminish their prestige or attract less qualified professors. Another model for profit, however, needs to be presented if effective education is needed for our populace. If business majors are in demand, raise their tuition and limit their enrollment or don’t limit the enrollment at a high price. Give the Liberal Art student a lower tuition based on performance. If they are doing well, discount their tuition. If they are a history major and not doing well, charge them the business school rates. My guess is that the studies will be taken more seriously; the liberal arts programs will be more popular because they are more affordable, and students who cannot justify the rise in tuition will reexamine their soul’s intention. The university would be forced to keep the programs competitive and what professor wouldn’t want to have an energized classroom?
It might be difficult to image but perhaps if we have more historians, our society will be better at understanding what motivates societies to react as they do and possibly prevent war. And really, most liberal arts majors end up going back for more education or graduate degrees which Universities benefit from in the long run. Careers are not handed out but have to be developed. Teachers, for example, can have wage increases if they get a master’s in education. Others return to get their teaching degree since they have become experts in their chosen field of study. Even if a person r returns to school for business classes, they have a chance of being more well-rounded and open-minded to cultures, new ideas, and different approaches to ethical issues. Education is life-long but the debt shouldn’t be.
I was relieved when I remembered in my dream that I had already graduated. For the kids today, I wonder if their dreams of college in their later years will be about getting a bill they could not pay or guilt about having to pay for another class they hated. Rah, rah, sis, boom, bahhhhh.