The education bubble: schooling or education?

By: Andrew Del Bene

This column is the second piece in a two-part series.

“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

To pick up where I left off, I’d like now to ask: what are we paying for and why? And I’d like to start by asking you, the reader, why exactly are you enrolled at Xavier right now? My guess is that for most of you, myself included, the answers would all boil down to some baseline of: it’s what was expected of me, my parents made me, mos maiorum, etc. I think the hope underpinning most, if not all, college applications is the promise of success, security and salary. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me break down the issues ahead and try to make some sense of the existential “why” I just posed.

 The High School Diploma: In the world our grandparents grew up in, achieving your high school diploma was, for most, the highest academic achievement. Today, influenced by our parents’ generation, that ideal has been shifted to the bachelor’s degree. Without an undergraduate education, we have been led to believe that our lives would be a constant struggle to scratch a living wage off the boot heels of investment bankers while working for minimum wage until we quietly passed away slumped over a McDonald’s deep-fryer. College has simply become the next step.

I don’t remember ever being asked what I wanted to do after high school; I was handed a stack of college guidebooks. The societal and parental expectation has become that you will go to college because that is how (real) people get jobs. I wholeheartedly disagree.

 Stigma: The expectation of going to college is so that you can get a mid-level, well-paying, fulfilling job and not just be some grunt putting together the boss’s new Mercedes C-Class. For some reason, everyone has to be a manager; being the man on the assembly line, an auto mechanic or civil servant has stigma attached to it.

Why? There’s nothing wrong with working with your hands. Having a trade is a wonderful thing, especially in a world where most people fall for the two-inone paint-and-primer combination as a suitable paint job. It’s all well and good for students to be able to wax poetic on the Platonic dialogues, but what are we going to do if everyone can discuss the significance of Gyges’ ring but not know how to change a tire or unclog a drain?

We can’t all be accountants and managers; yet college students are subtly told, “no, there are other people who do that kind of work.” Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to go to college either, I’m simply saying that not wanting to go is not the end of the world. We need mechanics, technicians, laborers, masons, carpenters, chefs, etc. Having a trade is absolutely respectable and there’s nothing wrong with going to technical school; so why do you need a bachelor’s degree to do it?

Schooling or Education? My last concern with the ever-expanding education bubble is the ambiguity of the ideal that is education. Growing up, we are given a string of long-term goals for our “education.” You need to get into a good high school to get into a good college, you need to get into a good college to get a well-paying, mid-level, executive position right after graduation, and so on. With all these hurdles set out before us throughout our childhood schooling, my question is: where does the actual education occur?

More and more we hear complaints from colleges that their students are not well prepared for a higher education experience, especially in terms of basic writing and communicative skills. That’s the problem: a horrific side-effect of this collegiate trend is that many high schools assume real education will occur at the undergraduate level and that their job is simply to get you there. Furthermore, when does the trend stop? If the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, when does the master’s degree take its place? Are we setting ourselves up for irrelevance? With more and more online, for-profit colleges emerging, when will a degree simply become a product?

We’ve already seen the trend begin with fast-track undergraduate programs in two or three years and master’s programs in one. Yes, for $300,000, you too can have letters after your name and a slip of paper that unquestionably qualifies you for something.

My goal in writing this piece is to raise awareness concerning not only the value in cost and outcome of a higher education but also the damaged nature of our nation’s educational system as a whole. High school and college used to be about training and expanding the mind to problem solve and take in new information; training for a specific job would occur on site. Today it’s about receiving technical skills tailored for specific careers. Most school systems look more like a factory rubber-stamping teenagers’ foreheads rather than a place to explore new horizons of both knowledge and self.

Given the time and personal desire (not from the drive to get a grade to get a degree to get a job) I could probably teach myself statistics rather than pay tuition to attend Xavier’s STAT 210 class. And to be totally arrogant and honest, I’m already a chapter ahead of the class in the textbook, scoring 24/24 on every homework assignment so far. Yeah, I would have rather spent $2.50 in late charges at the New York Public Library than pay tuition for a babysitter.

Interviewer: “What real world skills do you have?”

Interviewee: “Tests. I can take tests.”

Andrew Del Bene is a junior from Yonkers, N.Y. He majors in economics and is in the Honors Bachelor of Arts program with a minor in philosophy.