What is College For?

Jumping back into our debate from yesterday on the merits and difficulties of asking colleges to collect data about the employment outcomes of their graduates, commenter Some Experience writes:

The… issue that concerns me is the underlying premise that college is a job training program. I fully recognize that college should prepare people for careers, but it strikes me that making the direct connection between your college and your job placement rate will debase the idea of a liberal arts education and the humanities.

In theory, I agree completely. College should be a time to immerse oneself in the liberal arts and explore one’s beliefs and perhaps even take illicit substances and discuss What It All Means with friends while watching what surely must be the most gorgeous sunrise to have ever occurred from a beach (or, if attending school far from the ocean, a 24-hour IHOP parking lot).

In practice, the student loan crisis is so severe that I’m not sure we can afford to take this view of college. Moreover, most students choose to major in a field that has more to do with earning potential than with liberal artsy forms of intellectual edification.

If you told most students, “Okay, you’re going to go into debt for 25 years and pay about $200,000 over the life of the loan, and in doing so you won’t markedly improve your employment prospects,” it might not be a deal they would take, because most people go to school primarily to increase their earning potential.

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Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.