At college campuses across the country, new graduates and their families have been celebrating achievements and honoring the hard work and sacrifice that was required to attain the goal of a college education.
If we believe certain pundits, however, these efforts would have been better expended elsewhere. In my 46 years in higher education, I have never seen such negativity concerning higher education, as critics challenge the belief that a college education can position graduates for personal and professional success, state that a degree has little to no value and maintain that the cost of higher education is out of proportion to its benefits.
I’m sure that millions of college alumni who have gone on to successful careers and rich lives would disagree with these notions. I have never been a traditionalist or a protector of past practices, but it is time to challenge those who want to eviscerate the educational system that has made America the envy of the world.
There is no question that changes need to be made, as we accommodate the needs of today’s students and today’s job market. I would argue that colleges and universities are meeting the challenge as they incorporate new modes of teaching and learning, expand online delivery of courses, increase accountability for learning competencies, strengthen career relevance in the curriculum, and embrace apprenticeship and internship as learning opportunities and resume builders.
Higher education is more than an accumulation of competencies, and if we dismantle the true scope of the college experience —reducing it to a series of narrow learning objectives taught in massive, open online courses as some pundits suggest — we will truly “dumb down” America’s youth. No doubt, this route is cheaper, but what price will we pay for this so-called affordability? How well educated will our future leaders be?
Colleges today provide much more than 128 credit hours of undergraduate study. Students learn to live and study in a community that is not family. They receive personal and professional counseling, health care, athletics programs, exposure to the arts, leadership opportunities in college clubs and organizations, food services, housing, security, access to laboratories, academic support centers, fitness centers and more.
These are all part of developing the mind, body and spirit. I do not believe that these rich experiences can be acquired by students sitting alone at their computers, responding to online prompts.
College is a time of exploration and self-discovery, and the wide variety of courses inherent in a college education help students find their place in the world. Learning how to think critically, how to question, how to make connections across disciplines, how to appreciate other points of view, how to negotiate, and how to trust in creativity are vital and valuable assets — not just in earning a comfortable living, but in leading a rich and rewarding life.
For generations, students and their parents have invested in the most powerful gift of all — education. The current attacks on education are causing them to pause and ask, “Is it worth it?”
I would pose a different question: “Can we afford not to educate young men and women for the multifaceted challenges ahead?”
Richard E. Wylie is president of Endicott College in Beverly, and with a campus at 33 Commercial St., Gloucester.