Corrugated Degree Factories
Over at the Daily Dish, Lane Wallace bravely defends the liberal arts (from whom, I wonder – colleges’ burgeoning admissions rolls?), arguing that a humanities degree is somehow necessary to grasp ambiguity and encourage creative thinking. I’m skeptical, but this bit really jumped out at me:
In a flash, I grasped the true value of a college degree. It didn’t matter what I majored in. It didn’t even matter all that much what my grades were. What mattered was that I got that rectangular piece of paper that said, “Lane Wallace never has to work in a corrugated cardboard factory again.” A piece of paper that was proof to any potential future employer that I could stick with a project and complete it successfully, even if parts of it weren’t all that much fun. A piece of paper that said I had learned how to process an overload of information, prioritize, sort through it intelligently, and distill all that into a coherent end product … all while coping with stress and deadlines without imploding.
Granted, studying the humanities may help you understand nuance or enhance your capacity for innovative, original thinking. But is attaining a four-year undergraduate degree really an act of grit, determination and hard work? Having survived the ordeal, I don’t doubt that some hard work is involved – who hasn’t pulled an all-nighter or two in college? – but I suspect that the academic strivers are vastly outnumbered by kids coasting through.
I don’t know why this is, though I could point to a few possible explanations. Perhaps college has become too much like an adolescent rite of passage, more akin to your first summer job or your first steady girlfriend than a serious educational endeavor. Or maybe undergraduate coursework is simply too generic or too easy to offer students a real challenge. On the other hand, perhaps we’re letting too many people in.
I’m reluctant to generalize from my own experience, and having attended a small, good-but-not-great liberal arts institution, I’ve often wondered if things are different at the top of the heap. Are students simply more conscientious at Harvard or Yale or Brown? How hard does the other half study? Signs point to less than you’d think.