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There’s No Trust In Our Institutions

The start of a new school year inevitably prompts parents, incoming freshmen and commentators all to question whether college is a worthy investment anymore. What with the astronomical cost of attendance, the obsession with “political correctness” on campus, and the assumed uselessness of certain areas of study–what is the value of that fancy piece of cardstock paper anyway?

I recall being told by teachers in school then professors in college that education was not a just means to an end. The value of higher education and knowledge in general is not the particular pieces of information or skills that will lead to a job. Learning is an end itself. College is a place to explore one’s curiosities and learn something about the world and our place in it as citizens. Students from all walks of life interact and learn from each other. While sitting in class struggling to keep my eyes open it sounded to me like academic gibberish. Now I realize that there is plenty of time left to slog through the tedious grind of the so-called real world.

If the academic sentimentalism doesn’t convince you, consider that as a person’s education level increases, their earning potential increases in similar increments. The unemployment rate decreases as education increases. Learn more, earn more.

While tuition costs have inflated badly since the 1980s, higher education broadly has gotten more accessible. In addition to traditional 4-year degrees many colleges now offer 2-year degrees, niche programs, online courses, and professional certificates. Then there is the holy grail of affordable, sensible higher education–community college. These options are often relatively small investments with ample financial aid resources available. I got two years free at community college a semester overseas on the cheap and two years at a SUNY school with modest debt leftover. I am happy to sign the check to the loan agency every month.

Certainly, it is not a good investment for everybody. I would like to see a Presidential candidate propose a public service requirement for graduating seniors. Instead of spending 4 years in college students would have the choice of a government funded service experience or the option to join the military.

Frankly we don’t have a lot of trust in our institutions anymore…unfortunately. For obvious reasons Congress, television news, the Catholic Church rank low on the list of institutions which have the confidence of the public. Higher education is still far above them but for the first time, according to Gallup in 2018, it dipped below 50 percent of the American people claiming they have confidence in it. We are a better country when we value education for its own sake. We have our whole lives to serve The Man.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg native.

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