Back when I was a freshman here at the University of Michigan, I wrote an essay for my English class regarding higher education. The title of the essay was “Why College?” and I discussed what education and college means in today’s society. As I am looking to finish my undergraduate years in Michigan, I would like to revisit some points as a farewell post. And of course, I won’t forget about relating it back to our economics analysis.
One of the main motives for me to write such an essay as a freshman who had close to nil experience of at college was because from week 1, I felt a huge disparity between what the notion of education and college held for me. The summer before my first year, I took my passtime to read a little bit ahead of few courses that I was already determined to take. I eventually ended up reading the entire text book. Of course, I received no “credit” except maybe some self-pat-on-the-back and had to take the same course at school anyways in order for me to take more advanced classes. I felt like I was stuck somewhere between the reality of education system and my sincere desire to learn. Sadly enough there is really no proper way to resolve this problem. In the conclusion of my essay, however, I have stated that college is something more than just a place to earn credits.
Please do not mistake my point as downgrading the level of education and learnings you get from college. I do believe that college education is a vital part of your life whether it be in satisfying academic curiosity or prepping yourself to join the work force. Education and learning are key values for anyone to evolve and pursue excellence. If someone asked me whether education is essential for success, I would most definitely say yes. However, if anyone asks me whether college is essential for success, my answer would be ‘it really depends.’ And my goal is to draw a dotted line distinction between the two.
The point of my essay and my personal anecdote is that we must look at college beyond its primary function. Of course when the first university and higher education institution was established, the biggest reason for people to attend was to learn and conduct academic research. Today, however, with the advent of information technology growth at its highest speed, there are plenty of opportunities for you to learn anything for (almost) free on the internet. The so called training you need for jobs could be done at home with a computer and a moderate-speed wifi connection.
Why then do students still come to college? One is for the community and network of people that you can flock together. It is a great chance to meet professors, future colleagues and business partners. Of course, how could I forget to mention that it is also a great marriage market. Another is because it is a social norm. As much as it sounds naive for me to say, many students are just there because their age groups simply go to college after high school.
I mention all this is because there is a price tag associated with school. According to WSJ article, student loans have become inefficient, as in, its return on human capital to society may be weaker than had anticipated. You can see many statistical metrics and data on education on the previous link, but to make the long story short, we must find a smarter way to finance education. Many students are heavily burdened with debt even before cashing in the first full-time paycheck. Setting the number calculations aside, it is discouraging to know that you will be in debt for the next decade or two even before you start.
There had been plenty of “is college worth the price” posts in the past few months here. I would like to reiterate that there are undeniable advantages of getting a college degree. The average income, lifespan, happiness index are higher for people with college degrees than those who do not. The fact that you are educated and are able to see the world with a keener and broader perspective is something you cannot measure. However, every person must carefully finance loans and consider their majors, future incomes and other life goals to truly get most bang for buck in college. I know this is not what all college students think about everyday, but it is something worth reminding themselves every now and then.
College and education institutions have evolved from a place where you could learn advanced academic knowledge into a place with enriching experience in all aspects of your life. And education is simply one of them with slightly heavier weight than the others. Perhaps I was simply too young to see all this, and others knew how to enjoy college as is. In any case, I feel fortunate that I have realized all these point before I ended my college career.
I hope people found my self-epiphany somewhat useful if not at all useless. I wish the best of luck to everyone in their future endeavors throughout and beyond college. Thank you!