Due to challenging economic realities over the past decade, Higher Education has been forced to make itself more attractive to prospective students in order to remain functional, resulting in a transactional business environment between students and colleges. An ever-expanding corpus of mission statements and neatly manicured advertisements refers to students as “customers,” clients,” or “partners” in the learning process. To add to this pathetic misery, university brochures flash montages of college rec centers rather than the pedigrees of their programs. At this point, many are even suggesting that the commercialization of Higher Education has led to students underhandedly ruling the roost. Rate My Professor and similar websites slowly put a stranglehold on select professors, forcing them to dumb down their content since the best ratings usually come from the easiest classes.
What too many key players in this drama seem to be forgetting is that colleges are NOT businesses in the truest sense, or at least they shouldn’t strive for such a classification. Hopefully, our current crop of college students will one day offer the country a better economic performance than did their spendthrift Baby Boomer parents, but this also means today’s students need an education, not a nearly meaningless transcript featuring inflated grades from the McAdemy. Colleges shouldn’t bear the entire brunt of the blame, here. Students and colleges feed off of each other’s weaknesses. As colleges increasingly and embarrassingly cater to students’ recreational indulgences, students become lazier, and the vicious cycle continues. I don’t think Plato envisioned this when he created the Academy. Perhaps more than ever before in American history, we encounter a twisted version of learning that continues to drift away from the World of Ideal Forms.
Statistics regarding college GPA and the amount of time students put into their studying reveals how colleges and students have loosened their standards. Stuart Rojstaczer’s research has shown that since 1935, college GPA has increased by .1 to .2 per decade. Grade inflation proposes the idea that grades have a tendency to increase artificially and not because of smarter students, better education, better availability of information, or any other mechanism aiding student GPA. Concerning this rising GPA, many studies have shown that increasing SAT scores only explain between fourteen and twenty percent of the variance. The 2010 College Board found that, on average, a 100 point increase in average SAT scores supported a .1 increase in GPA. Comparatively, as Rojstaczer points out, “At both Texas and Duke, GPA increases of about 0.25 coincided with mean SAT increases (Math and Verbal combined) in the student population of about 50 points.”
Such statistics suggest that an increase in student quality and the availability of information does not account for the total increases in student’s grades, supporting the concept of grade inflation. As one might suspect, grade inflation corresponds to reduced study time. The University of California at Santa Barbara conducted a study discovering that “average study time for full-time students has dropped by fifty percent between 1961 and 2003, from 24.4 to 14.5 hours per week.” Therefore, higher enrollment in college does not entirely support a more sophisticated student populace. Rather, it supports the conclusion that students are indulging in a more leisurely college experience with the consent of administrators and educators alike.
Luckily for colleges, enrollment rates seem to increase perpetually for two reasons: the job market demands it, and the all too familiar student loan plays an ongoing role in keeping the system running. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that someone with a bachelor’s degree earns at least $15,000 more per year than someone without one. Edward Gordon’s research underscores this reality. In 2009, 62% of jobs required at least a two-year degree or higher or a variation of a special apprenticeship program. This number could reach 75% by 2020. Enrollment rates have a positive correlation to this trend. The National Center for Education Statistices notes that between 2000 and 2010, enrollment rates in four-year institutions alone have increased by 37%, due largely to the outsourcing of low paying jobs. Reasonably bright and ambitious Americans have no choice besides going to school. Of course, the decision comes easily when the college finance officer says, “You won’t have to pay a cent till you graduate.”
Education should not be held hostage by those who privilege materialistic and anti-intellectual outcomes in and of themselves. Of course, using a degree to earn a better living matters, but the fulfillment of a true education has no price tag. An illiterate and uneducated populace spells doom for any given culture, and this means avoiding such a prospect by cultivating a progressive, visionary, and highly capable intelligentsia. Without thinkers like Thales of Miletus, Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein, who thoroughly committed themselves to the acquisition of knowledge, we would probably not have our iPhones or possibly even our country, where we are free to pursue the American Dream.
To many, the pursuit of the American Dream should consist of working hard and obtaining a well-rounded, challenging education. Enforcing this requirement in Higher Education will create a generation of Americans who unsubscribe from ignorance and subscribe to the powers of free thought tied closely to sound reasoning skills. As it stands, the American Dream basically states that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything.
This interesting claim emphasizes the necessity to work, but not necessarily the necessity to learn. College students demonstrate this mentality as much as anyone. They commonly think to themselves, “Let me cram as hard as I can for this test so I can pass it, forget the information, and then prepare for the next.” Yes, the fact that more people attend college implies the prospect of a sophisticated cultural consciousness, but the job market demanding degrees plays a significant role. Those degree demands should correspond to maximizing a student’s highest potential. People who generate significant original ideas, who let knowledge engulf them and then capitalize on this knowledge, set themselves and everyone around them up for real success. Businesses shouldn’t be looking for people who characterize themselves as good little worker drones, but rather people who think critically and identify that one angle no one else has pursued but should have.