What is the point of higher education?

To inspire passion

By TAMARA BABIC, contributing writer

Why do people go to college? It seems like such a simple question, but the more you think about it, the more challenging it becomes. In this imperfect education system, people have lost sight of the true value of knowledge and have forgotten how enriching it is to become a well-rounded individual.

From many articles such as, “Why I’m telling some of my students not to go to college” by Jillian Gordon, and “Why go to college at all?” from the New York Times, we can see that there are more and more people who are dropping out of college. One of the reasons is that they don’t see the point of finishing.

Nowadays, students expect that when they finish college, they are going to have a degree and find a job, all the while trying to find the easiest path to success. In my opinion, these people have lost their passion for true education and the desire to improve themselves. They only enroll in the college for the sake of earning more money, not for the sake of learning.

I think that experience is a key of education. Through experience we learn. There is a good reason why people say that we learn from our mistakes. In order to learn, first we have to fail. We also have to be prepared for every challenge that comes. All those mistakes and challenges are there to make us stronger and shape us as a person.

A liberal education includes moments of failures, and this helps students to become independent, well-rounded, thoughtful individuals who actively contribute to their communities, not just through employment, but also through their interests and ability to participate in the issues of their time.

An additional important goal of education is to be unique. My dad always said, “Start learning Chinese! Be different. Start doing something!’’ Whenever he told me that, I would laugh at him but it wasn’t until I needed to apply to college that I realized how right he was.

I’m nothing but an average student, but a student who especially connected with the Salvador Dali’s quote “intelligence without ambitions is like a bird without wings.” Even though I don’t have any special talent or anything that makes me stand out, I know that I am ambitious and persistent enough to accomplish my goals and become successful. The liberal arts college environment has only fostered these traits.

There is no perfect education system. Thus, all we can do is try our best and adjust to the system in order to reach our highest possible potential and performance. I hope that liberal arts education will help me to improve my abilities through my academic career. At this point of my life, I realized that I should do things that are going to make me memorable.

I share Einstein’s thought, “I have no special talent, I’m only passionately curious.” It should come as no surprise that in order to become truly memorable, we need to be passionate enough. Passion, unlike talent, is something we can control, and inspiring and growing passion in students should be the goal of a liberal education.

To help coming of age

By OLIVIA BLAKESLEE, staff writer

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines a bildungsroman as “a novel that recounts the development of an individual from childhood or adolescence to maturity — to the point at which the protagonist recognizes his or her place and role in the world.” This type of novel could also be viewed as a “coming of age” story, but in far too many cases it remains just that: a story.

It is only in a perfect world that we all see the clouds part as we step into our very own tailor-made role, equipped for smooth sailing into adulthood. In reality, the mountain we must climb to do so is a very real one, and that is where we find the role of higher education: To act as a place where we turn our attention to our stories and write our own bildungsroman with deliberate attention.

An institution of higher education, particularly within the United States, is full of authors with blank pages before them. Seventeen and 18 year-old students enter in droves, largely tentative in their choice of a major, if they have made a choice at all. The majority of them have never lived on their own, and most have worked only part-time jobs. These same young people are, more often than not, also intelligent and dedicated, with test scores and GPAs to prove it, so the raw material is promising.

These students are expected to emerge four years later polished and ready to enter society as a shining example of an arrow with a target they are sure to hit if they have not already. The pressure is enormous.

And yet there is no institution more singularly suited to fill the role. Places of higher education are, by definition, put in place to prepare young adults for the world, and specifically employment. In colleges, and liberal arts colleges in particular, this core function is augmented by countless opportunities to fine-tune one’s broad education: internship opportunities, career education offices, advisers, alumni networks, etc. The list goes on and on.

It is easy to imagine, in today’s world where an increasingly large percentage of high school graduates go on to higher education, someone who goes directly from high school to their career of choice not being a full “adult.” While college graduates certainly lack the fullness of real-world experience that only decades can provide, expectations are high for their plans to be established. To establish these plans — to turn pencilled rough drafts to the ink of the bound page — students need only to take advantage of their institutions.

This chapter of our lives is a formative one. As far as much of the world is concerned, it’s the last chapter of our professional and social bildungsroman, and it is likely to be the last chapter in which we ourselves have the time to consider our private, mental and emotional bildungsroman. We have higher education to act as our workshop, to ensure that we are not handing over the pen but writing our own stories.

To allow for exploration

By EMMA GODEL, contributing writer

The world is extremely focused on concrete measurements. We are only concerned with getting from point A to point B, and we have an obsession with the numeric values involved in getting there. In higher education, these numbers are grades, cumulative GPA, class rank, acceptance rate, test scores, athletic division and various other statistics regarding students and educational institutions.

Students view point A as matriculation, and point B as earning a diploma, as well as getting the job of their choice or a spot in a graduate school. To justify their progress towards point B, many cite their high grades and test scores that will allow them to ultimately earn a diploma.

The catch? A diploma is a measurement, just like the numbers mentioned above. In fact, the word “graduation” itself means a step and is, in essence, a unit of measurement. A number can be an excellent way to analyze progress from a glance, but society today is trying to apply a summarized, snapshotted approach to education. The goal of higher education should not be to produce physical results such as a degree, but rather encourage students to embrace the abstract highlights of their journeys as scholars.

Through taking a variety of classes, a student definitely sharpens his skills surrounding writing, reading and logic, but more importantly, they craft their identity as humans and citizens. Students who actively choose to pursue any dreams and interests they have, rather than focus on point B alone, will evolve and flourish mentally and socially. Not only will they expand their connections and friendships with other students, but they will also learn how to work better with others, discover new passions and uncover learning opportunities they never would have noticed had they concentrated on a singular area of study alone.

It is vital to note that any worthwhile institution of higher education recognizes the value of student exploration. Mental growth is of the utmost importance, and many students, parents and educators alike fail to realize that a report card alone will never truly reflect a student’s true development.

Unfortunately, many secondary schools and institutes of higher education still place a great emphasis on rankings, which can not summarize the true sum of what a student has learned. A test-optional university, for example, is still controversial among some schools.

This brings up my third and final point — a quality higher educational institution will not hesitate to challenge current ideas and offer progressive solutions. The educational community must accommodate for a world that is changing socially, politically and environmentally. Therefore, students should be encouraged to question traditional beliefs and practices in the world today.

No one should settle for a mediocre education — and no citizen of the world should settle for a mediocre system when endless solutions are at the surface of all developing minds. Collectively, we should work to overturn the grueling, conventional grading systems in place and strive for higher education that truly embraces individualism, mental advancement, experimentation and social change. This is our duty as citizens moving forward.

To teach critical analysis

By ELLIS GIACOMELLI, science/international editor

Thank you for using the r-word as a noun to refer to your friend who asked a question with an obvious answer. Thank you for using the r-word as an adjective to describe your boring day. I thank those who have used the r-word for making it easier to distinguish between friends and enemies.

The r-word in any context is inhumane, and at an institute of higher education where we are challenged to apply classroom learning to our out-of-classroom lives, the hypocrisy of using the r-word as we preach respect astounds me.

Language is the primary mechanism by which we communicate, express our thoughts and share ourselves. The educated who attend institutes of higher education must learn to evaluate their language before they can begin to understand their own identities and goals. This is one of the chief goals of such education.

We have created and use hundreds of thousands of words to describe our world, but this one word, obsolete in psychological fields, has incredible power.

The r-word displaces and excludes its true recipient from social and intellectual spheres. When you use the r-word to describe your friend who does not have an intellectual disability, you use the r-word to describe every person who does have an intellectual disability. With one word, you manage to subvert an entire population of people, and when you use the r-word to directly describe someone with an intellectual disability, you claim unmerited superiority.

This superiority is claimed in part because of the evolutionary nature of language. The use of the r-word has evolved into a painful and derogatory insult from official legal and psychiatric distinctions.

Rosa’s Law replaced “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in United States federal legislation and documents in 2010 because of the efforts of Rosa Marcellino, her family and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, among others. Official distinctions have power too, so the removal of terms that have evolved into such harmful abuses of power helps affirm the inhumanity of those abuses.   

The American Psychiatric Association has used “intellectual disability” since 2013 when the fifth edition of the APS Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released. The 20th century also experienced this type of language overhaul when “retardation” replaced classifications of moron, imbecile and idiot.

These moments of change are complicated and implore us to think about the power we grant ourselves through our languages.

We cannot hope to change the long-term trajectory of our languages unless we choose to change our own understanding of our languages. Our words not only have power, they are our source of power.

I want to be kind. I want to be kind until kindness is no longer appropriate. The moment your brain fires the signal that pushes your lips outward and makes your tongue retreat to produce the r-sound, it becomes difficult to grant you the benefit of the doubt.

“Never” is too absolute, too sure of itself, too embedded in the impossible. I don’t like saying “never.” The scum of the earth could one day cease to be scum, but the stench of the scum will never go away, and I will never stop pointing out your stench.