The value of a college “education”

When we apply to college, we spend hours on applications, all with the goal of trying to prove why we should be here. But it seems like once we get here, some of us spend our time wishing we were somewhere else.

Forgive me for being a bit lofty perhaps, but I’ve always viewed academia as something truly special. Higher education is about interacting directly with the stewards of the world’s knowledge on any and all subjects and being allowed access to that knowledge, that you might possess it for yourself. I feel academic settings like lecture halls to be a place where interesting, maybe even mystical things transpire, where some of the greatest minds of our time bring their wealth of experiences and share them with eager minds. I find academia to be somewhat sacred.

I’ve found that not everyone shares my view.

I find that some of my peers strangely disregard the academic experience. Some are confrontational with professors and teaching assistants, seeking to somehow prove them wrong instead of seeking to learn from them. Some are blatantly disrespectful during lectures, speaking while the professors are speaking. Some don’t seem to value what is being learned. (I feel the urge to ask such students if they have a Ph.D. If they don’t, I’d like to inquire why it is that they believe they know as much as one.)

Upon noticing this marked difference in approach to the college classroom, I have begun to wonder what it is that causes such a distinction between some of my peers who share my view and those that don’t. I believe that there are those who are pursuing a college degree and those that are pursuing a college education.

When we begin to view this process of knowledge acquisition as a process which must be endured in order to begin making money, we fail to recognize the inherent value in knowledge that can never be learned from textbooks and the experiences that are uniquely relayed to us by professors. When we begin to view college as a means to a degree, not as a learning experience, we forget what it is to learn.

By viewing the college academic experience as something from which we can only derive extrinsic, not intrinsic value, we are not getting our money’s worth. Our tuition can be thought of as an investment in not just professors’ salaries, but ourselves. There is something to be said for forcing ourselves to take classes that challenge us, for encountering and embracing the ideas of professors who inspire us and make us think in new ways, and for allowing ourselves to think outside of what we’ve known.

Furthermore, when we view the classroom as a stage for expressing our own supposed expertise by challenging our professors, all we have proved is that we have failed to humble ourselves enough to learn. It is difficult to have both our mouths and our ears open.

Around the end of the first semester, I find myself reflecting upon what I’ve learned. I hope you’ll do the same. Are you striving for a degree or an education?




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