The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Shelter from the Storm

There are many people who don’t buy into the American higher education system. They have legitimate reasons, whether it’s because they can’t afford it, have failed out of it, or they just don’t think it’s worth it. The latter makes for an especially intriguing discussion.

Over the weekend I talked with a good friend from home who feels that the price of education in this country has become a serious issue. In the midst of his thirties, he’s well on his way to becoming a highly successful entrepreneur, and he challenged me to defend the education I’ve paid such a high cost for over these past four years.

With a month and a half left until my college graduation, he managed to strike a chord of doubt in me.

“Take a moment, and really think about the education that you’re receiving,” he said. “What is it that your receiving in exchange for what this country says is worth, on average, $20,000-45,000 dollars a year? What are you learning on a day-to-day basis?”

Specifically, in the classroom I’ve been learning how to apply a critical perspective to literature. And yes, there are times when I regret this decision.

But he answered his own question better than I could. “In a nutshell,” he explained, “what you’re learning is how to be an employee.”

The thinking behind this statement isn’t too complicated, but the attitude that comes with it runs contrary to how most of us perceive our degrees. Regardless of our majors, the majority of us college students are being developed into employees that will work hard for a business. Our daily work is going to directly benefit someone who is sitting at the top of that business, someone whose monthly income will be drastically larger than ours. We put ourselves in years of debt in order to learn how to be an employee for that employer.

This means that at age 30, you could still be paying for the class you just sat through in Marillac. We justify this with the expectation that our degree will safeguard against having to flip burgers or stock shelves for a living.

Granted, money does not necessarily define success, nor does it have to determine one’s happiness. But what my friend argued is that the higher education system in this country has become a detriment to American students by placing them in overwhelming debt at the starting line of their lives.

Few people question the absurd cost of education in this country because they can’t afford to. We feel it’s either a lifetime of loans, or a lifetime of minimum wage. Today, parents bring their babies home from the hospital and start saving for college the next day. It’s as American as baseball and sport utility vehicles. To get a sense of how accustomed Americans have become to an education system that takes students hostage with debt, consider how irate the British youth became last October when Parliament passed a bill that would bring small tuition fees to public universities in England.

They very idea that a college education would be costly set off intense student riots, and not simply because of wild teenage angst. They rioted because they felt their right to education had genuinely been violated. This was an injustice that students in this country can’t quite relate to.

American college students don’t think like that. Instead, we trust the education system as if it can only benefit us, not hurt us in anyway.

Without that degree, we feel naked, and in our defense, getting a job is fairly impossible without it. But the common degree has become a commodity too valuable for its own good. Unfortunately, these flaws with the American higher education don’t have a clear solution. The tradition of privilege that has developed such lofty college fees is well rooted in our history. Our education system exists in the land of capitalism and big business, where institutions are driven by money and consumers feed the beast.

American universities and colleges also serve the world as hubs for elite education. Foreigners pour into our schools in order to receive degrees that will be twice as valuable back home, and many of them receive lucrative scholarships because of their international appeal. Considering these conditions, I don’t see an answer to monstrous tuitions.

What can change, however, is how readily students accept a lifetime of loan payments. Young people have a choice as they approach their college years, a choice that should be stressed instead of the “college or bust” attitude which has penetrated our high schools and homes. That, and our high school students should be made better aware of the financial repercussions of their grades. One thing we know for sure is that as long as this country is America, higher education will not be free – or even cheap.

With graduation less than two months off, it would have been a whole lot easier to defend the debt I’m in if I had a job to move on to. For now, I’ll wallow in an endless cycle of resumes and cover letters, hoping that eventually my degree is as valuable as its price tag said it would be.

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