Tuesday, September 05, 2023

The College Experience

This piece isn't particularly offensive unlike many of the pieces which speak about college as if there are only about 10 universities (the ones the writer and all their friends went to), but it still isn't reflective of the university experience of a large number of students.
But the expectation that college will help them land a job has led too many students to approach college like a job in its own right: a series of grim tasks that, once completed, qualifies them to perform grimmer but better-paid tasks until retirement. That’s a shame, because this mentality leaves no room for what college should primarily be about: not work but leisure.

College is a unique time in your life to discover just how much your mind can do. Capacities like an ear for poetry, a grasp of geometry or a keen moral imagination may not pay off financially (though you never know), but they are part of who you are. That makes them worth cultivating. Doing so requires a community of teachers and fellow learners. Above all, it requires time — time to allow your mind to branch out, grow and blossom.
My tenure track job was at UC-Irvine. Not a flagship UC school, but still in the UC system. At that time it mostly wasn't a residential college (I think that's changed, somewhat). Students commuted to school, most (or it seemed, I don't have the numbers) had other jobs. School was, for them, in many ways, "a job." Their first or second job, depending on their perspective.

This wasn't because they had the wrong attitude about their time there - wherever that attitude might have come from - it was because that was the structure of the place and the need to pay the bills.

Whatever university should be in some idealized sense, it just is not that for large numbers of students. They don't all go at 18, they don't all go full time, they aren't all in residential colleges, many have to work during the semester and certainly summers to support themselves.

American universities are constantly being written about from a particular perspective which is just not a universal one.