Elisa R.

$1,000 Resolve to Evolve Scholarship Winner - Junior

What Makes College Worth It?

Is a diploma worth only the income that comes from it? Can the “highest return on investment” only be counted in dollars and cents? I believe not. Students should realize that college is not here to help them land great jobs but to broaden their way of thinking and discover how they can contribute to society. Colleges should celebrate their original purpose – to be a center of learning. I would like to propose three stepsthe post-secondary education system could take to satisfy their students. First, redefine education. Second, radicalize students’ views on college. And third, reform the classes.

According to a survey taken by the Pew Research Center, only nine percent of college presidents say the higher-education system is doing an excellent job providing academic programs that meet the needs of today’s economy. Obviously,change needs to occur. To begin with, I believe education in college should reach beyond textbooks and lectures. The post-secondary education system today no longer sparks enthusiasm or excitement and fails to inspire students from reaching their full potential.In his article “The True Purpose of College and Higher Education,” college student Dung Nguyen shares how instead of “education [being] a diverse and interactive environment where one challenges known assumptions, and probes mysterious realms of thought, it has become one where the same topics are taught repetitively every year, making students cynical and unconcerned about real learning.”A great education will bring the “eureka!” moment and the desire to gain knowledge indefinitely. Yet students are coming out of college focused either on money, or on nothing. To inspire students, I believe education should include more hands-on activities. Little children dream of becoming firefighters, because the fire-station field trip actually shows them what the job is like. Textbooks cannot do that. Not even the advanced, futuristic technology that colleges spend thousands of dollars on can do that. I suggest that the money be focused rather on activities that can both inspire students and provide experience.

If colleges bring more excitement and adventure into their curriculum, if colleges work on really drawing out their students’ inner passions and potentials, then students will feel much more passionate about learning. Fewer students will believe college to just be the pathway to affluence.Instead, students should come out of college accepting the challenge to revolutionize the world. Colleges will not churn out the money-hungry, but the stars of our next generation.

Of course, not every student feels engaged to go where no man has gone before. This brings us to step two: transforming the way students view college. I propose radicalizing freshman orientation. Some colleges have already started wilderness explorations as part of their program, taking students away from their natural habitat and proving to them that college is to be taken seriously. I suggest that every school implement some program for students to be taken away from their cozy beds, morning coffee and laptops, and dropped into a new situation in which they have to ponder their goal in life or the true meaning of success.

Once students become inspired, the classes serve as catalysts for their growth and development.This leads to the third step: adjusting the classes or more specifically, adjusting the professors who instruct those classes.

Universities waste money trying to hire top researchers, not taking into consideration their teaching skills or ability to inspire. Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker explainin their book Higher Education how these “celebrity professors” spend most of their energy on research and prefer to teach only a few classes – which results in the school having to find more professors – results in both higher tuition and decreased quality of instruction.

Even if some of those professors grow to prefer teaching over research, the only way for them to attain tenure is through their number of publications. As a result, colleges end upsupporting professors who dedicate more time to research than to teaching. If colleges chose to base tenure commensurately on teaching skill, they would have professors who actuallylove teaching. Students would benefit tremendously and save money too.

In this situation, there are ways for everyone to improve. Colleges have given up on their students, not believing they can transform the world. Students aretoo comfortable, uninspired and uneager to discover the cure for cancer or reform the economy. Professors have ignoredtheir main job, focusing instead on their own research and futures. Let us all be more ambitious in working to make a difference in the world. And if we ever get too focused on money, let us remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

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