What’s wrong with higher education?

As Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama light up media cycles and outline their platforms, there’s an issue that’s been swept under the rug: the state of higher education in America.

There have been whispers of America’s declining education system for years now, but are they substantiated? Are we in a state of crisis? How do we fix it?

A new study by Time and the Carnegie Corporation New York surveyed “1,000 U.S. adults and 540 senior administrators at public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities” with surprising results. 89 percent of U.S. adults and 96 percent of higher education administrators ranked the state of education as “in crisis;” moreover, roughly 40 percent of both parties said the crisis is “severe.”

Obviously, there is a problem.

Any number of factors enters into this crisis — student debt, not receiving an adequate education for the cost of education, inaccessibility of college to the underprivileged, money, money, money. The list continues. I’m not an economics major, but it seems as if all these factors have a basic motivating factor beneath them.

Up to 80 percent of the general population stated they do not believe that the education students receive reflects the cost to attend a college or university. A division between the U.S. population and higher education administrators arises; somewhere along the line there’s a fundamental difference.

In fact, per the study: “Only 26 percent of the general public ranked ‘to learn to think critically’ as either the most important or second most important reason people should go to college, compared with close to two-thirds of college leaders, 62 percent, who included critical thinking in their top two choices.”

On one hand we have the general population who says that learning to think critically isn’t a main priority of higher education. On the other, we have the administrators who say it is.

If learning to think critically isn’t the point of college, what is?

It sounds like a broad, abstract question, but the answer is pivotal. If the general paying public and those setting the price and curriculum of college can agree on a singular idea of what college should be, then perhaps an agreeable price can be found to help lower that “crisis” status.

So, what’s the point of college? Apparently not critical thinking.

It must be learning to live independently. College teaches you how to do your own laundry, scrounge for food at high-quality eating institutions like Wawa, dress yourself and function all by yourself, away from your parents. That seems good.

But, wait. How was your fall break? I hope it was good, and I hope you saw your family. If you did, that’s proof that college isn’t all about independence. More importantly, attending an institute of higher education isn’t the best way to learn independence. Here, you depend on the college to provide food, shelter and something to do. If you want to be independent, go camping.

We’re back to square one. What’s the point of college? It can’t be learning to think critically. And it’s not learning to live independently. Well, it must be learning how to network!

Networking gets you contacts, contacts get you jobs, jobs get you a house and 2.5 kids! Talk to any older person who has played this game before — they’ll all tell you it’s about who you know. This is great advice.

But wait. College isn’t the only place to network. Look at millions of people who never attend college and end up happy and employed. That can’t be it.

Back to square one again. What’s the point of college? It’s not learning to network, it’s not learning to live independently, and according to 74 percent of the population, it’s certainly not thinking critically.

But wait. What if it is? Thinking critically allows you to live independently, network and gives you a vast number of other amazing benefits.

If the point of college is indeed to learn to think critically, then we’ll need a major paradigm shift in society. Only when the general public and higher education administrators get on the same page about the point of attending a university can we nix this “crisis” in the butt.

Email Chris Weber at cmweber@email.wm.edu.


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