According to the Census Bureau, as of 2010 there were 20.3 million students enrolled in higher education, or 5.7% of the total population. It seems that year-over-year, decade-over-decade, the number of college and university enrollment is ever on the rise. The reason for this is that these poor students have bought into the dubious claim that the path to success is straight and narrow, that all roads lead to and through academia, and that once you get that piece of paper, you will be on easy street. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams await!
This is the line they are fed, and easy it is to receive. Looking at the typical public university, one gets the impression that there are “academic” offerings in perpetuity. Whatever one’s interests, just go to university and you will find what you are looking for. Why, then, do so many either drop out before graduating, or else graduate with a completely unprofitable degree? The answer to this is that the university as it was originally intended, the university as we once knew it, has catered too much to the wishes and desires of the masses. Gone are the days of the university as a place purely to foster intellectual growth. It has exchanged its soul for a storehouse, and because of this, there is now much less concern for individual academic enlightenment, and much more emphasis on enrollment rates and endowment levels.
Time was, the university was a place intended for the most intellectually gifted and brightest amongst us, that they might hone their craft. Medicine, law, theology, philosophy, the sciences – these were the reasons that individuals went to the university and, conversely, these were the reasons that so many did not attend. In fact, the word “university” is derived from the Latin universitas magistorum et scholarium, which roughly translated means “community of teachers and scholars.” For all other trades, individuals who were not up to the task of handling the intellectual rigors of the university would take on apprenticeships in order to develop their craft based on real-world experience. No one ever went to the university to major in masonry or blacksmithing. These were skills that were undoubtedly valuable to society, but not deemed necessary to go to the university to perfect. They were crafts of the hand, and the university was intended for crafts of the mind.
How things have changed. Yes, one can still study the traditional university pursuits, but also on the table are: fashion design, theater, music, gender studies – valuable in their own right to be sure (for the most part), but I doubt many would argue that they are exactly university material. One need not go to college to pursue the arts. One certainly need not go to the university to pursue gender studies. Higher education has been dumbed down to make it more accessible to the masses, and with such a decline in academic rigor has come the unfortunate – though hardly unpredicatable – consequence of less capable college graduates. What are gender studies, exactly? I guess we must go to the university to find out.
Perhaps this idea of the university as a place of traditional scholarship is old-fashioned. It needs to be stated clearly that it is far too easy to get into college and, accordingly, there are far too many enrolled in college when other means of advanced education would more than suffice. There is not a thing wrong with pursuing paths that will lead to social and personal advancement. A greater or more noble goal can scarcely be found. However, what is good for the goose is rarely if ever good for the gander. The university may for you be a boon, but for your neighbor may only be a burden.