I have always been warned to not take one example and make a universal rule out of that one instance. I have learned many times that in those times, I was looking more at the exception rather than the rule. I think the scientists and statisticians among us would confirm that a sample size of one isn’t very good to help draw broad conclusions.
Yet it is in this backdrop that I am concerned about the state of the typical American college.
Currently, right down the road in Fairborn, Wright State University is in the midst of a weeks-long faculty strike. Fiscal mismanagement practiced by the former administration and a lack of oversight from the board of trustees created an environment where the expenses outpaced revenues for a number of years. Those years of bad practices are coming home to roost. The university is perilously close to state oversight and these latest labor issues certainly continue to give a beaten university another kick in the teeth.
And I’ll admit, this situation hits me in an emotional place. I spent six years at Wright State earning two degrees. But more than that, the university played a pivotal role in my growth and maturation. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me in that relatively short period of time. Friendships were made and relationships were forged.
Even after all these years, I still have a strong relationship with the school. I have been beyond blessed to still talk to classes and present at forums. I still have good relationships with my old professors and really enjoy being on campus. But the current tumult at Wright State makes me wonder what is in store for the future of higher education.
My generation was brought up with the university in mind. A college education was the key to a better life; it provided a higher earning potential and in a more personal sense, it was a point of pride. My college education was a very individualistic pursuit. The diplomas I earned have my name on it, no one else’s. Did others help? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I was the one that wrote the papers, took the tests, attended the classes.
Looking at life in the 21st century, do the promises of higher education still hold promise? We are seeing stories from the manufacturing and service industries where a strong work ethic, showing up on time and the ability to work in a team environment means a lot more in today’s economy than writing a 10-page paper and defending a thesis.
Now, don’t get me a wrong. The ability to communicate one’s thoughts in a clear and concise way is probably the greatest skill one can have in navigating their own life. The challenge is trying to figure out whether a college education is worth the time and expense involved. Layer upon this, story after story where college and universities are quickly leaving behind their tradition of being places where the pursuit of knowledge and truth are paramount.
While not commonplace, actions where students are making demands of college administrations to protect them from thoughts and ideas that seem threatening are becoming more and more prevalent.
There is plenty of research showing the modern American college student has grown up in an environment where they weren’t exposed to ideas that were counter to their own thoughts. When these students get to college and get exposed to these ideas, it’s widely believed that they do not have the ability to deal with thoughts that are counter to their own. Welcome to the world of “safe spaces” and “cry closets.” On campus, our collective feelings are more important than the truth that may be revealed through our studies, experiences and observations.
The question remains, what happens to the typical American college? Faced with higher costs and no promise of high earnings, are young adults going to opt to other options to create a career? Arguably, there are more opportunities outside of the hallowed halls of the university to create a life, than there has ever been.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.