The Cheapening of College

In case you don't know the story, or you weren't listening the first time, I think the SAT is a bit of a scam.  It's a very good predictor of success on future standardized tests.  It's not good at measuring creativity, discipline or intellectual curiosity -- three things that are, or should be, necessary for a college education.

Unhappily, we have set our standards too low.  The high school where I teach boasts that 100% of its students are accepted to college.  As much as I love my school and the students who attend there, there are quite a few who should never go to college, either because of low scholarly aptitude or because they just aren't cut out for academia.  (Sometimes these students are actually too smart for college, at least for the "college" they have their hearts set on.)  But they are told they have to attend college to be successful, so they do.  Then they drift off to careers in service industries or retail (both of which are trades that would be far better learned through an apprenticeship program) or get married and raise families and never look back.*

Grad school, I thought, would consist of a thinned crowd -- people who really do love to learn and think.  I've been monumentally disappointed.  Many of the students are fresh out of their undergrad programs without a day of teaching under their belts; they treat it like, well, school, instead of a community of learners.  In my first undergraduate experience, at Cooper Union's School of Architecture, we spent nights in angry debate about the principles of parti and racial violence.  Not because it was assigned, but because we were passionate about it, even at the expense of sleep and partying and sometimes our graded assignments.  After this experience, many people told me it "sounded like grad school," so I assumed it would be similar, but my classmates seem to treat school as more of a business transaction (tuition now for higher pay later) than an opportunity for intellectual enrichment.

And now we've stooped to a new depth of consumerism: pre-approved "fast track" applications that require, in some cases, only a signature -- no essay, no visit.  Sometimes, no joke, the university will throw in a free baseball cap.  All of this is guaranteed to boost the number of applicants, which helps the college look good (they're selective; they don't just admit anyone!) while hurting the students (those who really might want to attend have less of a chance, while those who are shoe-ins and never even intended to apply gum up the works.)

Bad.  On so many levels.  There are fewer and fewer who want to learn.

*I'm not trying to insult parents here . . . just saying that there are people who want to attend college and raise families, and people who want to raise families but attend college because they feel like they're supposed to.  Society would be better served if those in the latter group simply focused on their main goals.