Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not much more to say

When it’s all said and done, what is an education worth? A student spends four years in a college (on top of the twelve or so years it took to get there first), working away, spending time, money, and effort, and what does he or she receive at the end? Well, a diploma, if you’re looking for a physical, tangible product. And a degree, if you ask about something that’s not physical, but still pretty easy to understand. A college education certainly makes an individual a more lucrative employee; ask anyone and they will probably say that an educated workforce is good for everyone involved. But there’s more to it than that. A laundry list of intangible, nebulous benefits comes with a college education, and the vast majority of them have nothing to do with a slip of paper stating that you completed a series of course requirements.

College is an experience. On tours all the time I will say that “if a student just goes to class, goes back to their dorm, studies, sleeps, and repeats, college will probably be a boring time.” And I’m not just referring to relaxing and having fun (which are still important), but instead I’m talking about a little introspection and self reflection. Not to sound too philosophical, but college is one of those times when people young and old can “find themselves,” seeing as you spend four years trying a variety of classes or activities, and, in some cases, living on your own for the first time. I would go as far as to say that a college experience wouldn’t be complete without a little self exploration.

But education is still the goal of college; it’s called “higher education” for a reason. And yes, a professional education that focuses on a major and a presumptive career path is vital, but, again, there’s more to it than that. Universities date back pretty far, and the mode of operation hasn't really changed: people who want to learn come together to listen to the words of men or women who are wiser than they (admittedly, tuition has risen since the time of the Greeks, but who’s keeping track, right?). Someone spends all of this time studying and, in return, they learn. They learn a profession, learn how to solve problems, or learn about the world around them and how their choices or actions interact with that world. Though on this count I may be biased; having a liberal education lends itself more to a broad understanding of the world, if you ask me.

And, to be honest and simple, a lot of growing up happens in college. In a very pragmatic sense, college can teach a student how to become an adult. Not just if you're living on your own, but in a host of other ways. For the first time ever (in many cases), you’re paying for your education, whether through out-of-pocket money, loans to be paid back later, or scholarships earned and kept through good grades. No one is chasing after you to complete homework or spend time studying. A pretty large portion of my instructors have told my classes, “I want you all to succeed, and I will provide the tools to help you get there, but ultimately, that journey is on your shoulders.” There’s no designated “lunch period” or “free time,” you’re planning your own day out. The resources to succeed or catch up if you fall behind are readily available, but it is the student's responsibility to seek those out. It boils down to the fact that college is a process, one which is remarkably difficult to complete without growing into a hard working, mature individual.

Plus, it’s totally fun. Seriously, I wouldn’t go as far as saying “best four years of your life,” but if you make the most of it, it will be pretty far up there. And that’s kind of the centerpiece of this whole argument: college is what you make of it. 30 seconds ago, I said that college is a process, and I still say that it is, but it may be more accurate to call it an opportunity. It can be as great or as dislikeable as you want it to be, or anywhere in between. Someone always tells me that I should be a "glass half full" kind of guy, and that's true when looking at one's education, as well. Your experience depends upon what you want to get out of it, how hard you’re willing to work for it, and how you react to the results.

I know there are several, several more reasons why a college education is worth the time, effort, money that it costs, but I’ve already droned on and lectured all of you for way longer than I should. Since we’re in the middle of the holiday season right now, I suppose I should wish everyone happy times and a safe new year, and, as always, ask questions if you have them.


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