Is higher education actually about education?

Has anyone ever seen someone wearing a t-shirt that says “we are a drinking school with a football problem?” Or any variation there-of? What do advertisements like this say about the school? And why does that somehow boost the popularity of the institution?

My thought is that so many (not all) colleges and universities advertise themselves as a way of life. They sell “fun” over education. They sell sports, clubs, and Greek life over what college should really be about – Learning. Growing. Becoming prepared for a job.

But fun sells.

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Don’t get me wrong, sports, clubs, Greek life and any extra-curricular activities are extremely important to the college experience. And honestly, most of memories from my undergraduate years revolve around the experiences I had outside of the classroom. But, they are not the point (or shouldn’t be). Yes, you go to college and make friends, likely go to some parties, and participate in clubs. But college isn’t summer camp. We don’t go to college to have fun. We go to college to work and to learn. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fun and have a life outside of school because work-life balance is imperative.

I remember in high school, some of my peers would just boast about how they couldn’t wait to go to college so that they could drink all weekend, meet boys/girls, etc. Very few seemed actually excited about going to college to learn! Movies do the same thing. Most movies about college students portray huge parties, a lot of drinking, and (gulp) little studying. And people wonder why they do poorly in their classes. And it appears to me that universities keep growing, continue expanding athletic facilities, and spending millions of dollars while they remain understaffed. And being understaffed = stressed faculty that don’t have the time or resources to give individual attention to all of the students who need it.

How can we make college about education first? It must have been that way at one point.

6 Replies to “Is higher education actually about education?”

  1. Erin, this is an interesting topic. As a qualifier, I think learning or acquiring knowledge is generally subjective. However, I believe learning is not just the rigor of classroom exercises, but the totality of the college experience in and out of the classroom.

    1. Good point – that is true. We definitely learn a lot outside of the classroom from life experiences. My point more is that we don’t pay thousands of dollars for outside of classroom experiences (directly, at least).

  2. This is a good topic, we could probably talk about it until the cows come home. Side-stepping the culture that surrounds the college experience, it is also probably the first time students have to make decisions on their own. It is definitely hard to realize your actions now, during undergrad, can have large consequences down the road. There will be people suggesting you do one thing or another, but it is ultimately their decision now. You would like to hope that it is part of the maturing process that they realize what an expense and opportunity going to college is and they don’t waste it. Maybe that all comes back to trying to change the culture and perceptions of what the college experience should be. Don’t get me wrong though, it was fun to let loose once and awhile.

  3. Great topic, I have also wondered something similar at times. My personal opinion is that campus life activities/services should certainly be supported because they help students maintain a good life balance. However, like you, I think that the priority should be to gain an education. My goal: gain an education, learn marketable skills, and enjoy some great memories with your peers along the way. But like you said: fun sells, and the way college is often portrayed in popular media is just perpetuating the summer-camp vibe.

  4. I agree with everything you said but also add sometimes even the classes themselves aren’t focused on education. I can name a number of undergraduate classes that I have forgotten almost everything I was taught during class, and there are others that what I learned was never actually necessary for my career or everyday life. Some classes are purely about earning that “A” and not increasing our critical thinking and retention nor are they developing any applicable skills. I know not all classes are like this, but I think there are way more than there should be.

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