Within American upper-class communities, there seems to be an expected “natural” progression from high school to a four-year university. Certainly, the two-year college would be appropriate, so long as it leads to another two years and a bachelor’s degree. This obsession with “anything less than college equals failure” is validated by well-intentioned guidance counselors steering “college indecisive or resistant students” down a “better path.”
This social design is sometimes more harmful than helpful. The point which the upper-class overlooks is that their “college or bust” mentality is not a reality for the vast majority of the world, let alone within our country. If those pushing the college agenda understood that just 40% of Americans (ages 25-64) have an associate degree, 20% have a bachelor’s, and the universal disparity is even greater—college education is 7% worldwide—perhaps these same families asserting college attendance might also understand that if you’ve ever been a college student, regardless of your socioeconomic background, you were afforded one of the most fortunate opportunities that exists.
It’s understandable why many parents promote education. Perhaps a positive experience attending college led to a successful future; something they’d like for their children. Alternatively, they may have been raised in an environment where college wasn’t a possibility, and now that it’s a viable option for their offspring, they won’t stop pushing until their child is enrolled in a university.
I’m not emphasizing distaste for the university system, nor is it my intention to discourage attendance; I’m a proponent for furthering one’s education. From a meta-analytical perspective, those who earn postsecondary degrees experience better outcomes, including higher incomes and greater career opportunity, security and satisfaction. Employers undoubtedly value a college education; if they didn’t, why would so many pay for employees’ tuition?
However, rarely do individuals who fit into privileged categories second guess their decision to set aside massive amounts of time during the peak of their physical health to attend college. Without thought, they haphazardly sit through lectures in high-tech buildings separated by well-groomed patches of grass where other “scholars” gather to read textbooks, consume copious amounts of lattes and alcohol, fraternize with socialites… and eventually earn their degree.
If we attend school simply to obtain a degree without the intent of growth and development, then we aren’t really learning, but simply following a mundane set of relatively rare societal norms. The true purpose of education is transformation. When those who take on the onerous, yet fulfilling mission of starting college with an openness to transform, only then will they actually learn.
Again, I wholeheartedly believe in the value of education. However, when attending college isn’t viewed as both a luxury and unique opportunity, we encounter a frequently occurring problem; many young, college-bound students who initiate their studies head-on, but without tenacity or purpose. Worldwide, an education is coveted by many, but attainable by few. I hope to see more people who have the ability to attend college choosing to do so after making an informed, conscious decision to go rather than seeing it as the only option.
Adam Chester will begin studying to earn his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology this Fall.