Saturday, June 8, 2019

Reason 1: College is the Best Way to Stimulate your Intellectual Curiosity


Our first reason for going to college is to develop upon one’s own intellectual curiosity. In the first post on the 100 Reasons not to go to College blog, the author recommends that universities aren’t necessarily the best way to satisfy one’s own thirst for knowledge.  

The first argument provided by the author is the idea that during general education, one will be unlikely to actually learn (primarily due to the stress of taking on varying assignments, some of which will fall out of the scope of one’s own major of study). However, and this is a point the author makes somewhat inadvertently, universities provide a mixture of courses that one would be very unlikely to attempt on their own, stifling their ability to a) learn new things that they wouldn’t have taken the chance too, b) can inform their major of study in a novel way, and c) without learning a broader form of general education, would keep the student from acquiring a more diverse set of knowledge.

For example, the author notes that a history major would gain greatly in their development of their historical knowledge, but would then be forced to study for STEM classes that would distract them from their actual interests. While I see the author’s points, there is also a great potential here for the student to potentially find new interests or be able to explore their interest in history in new ways. If anything, at least the student will develop problem-solving skills that will assist them in the study of their field of interest, thereby better grasping the theories, content, vocabulary, and the ability to critically dissect the field of history they wish to study.

The better argument against general education is the fact that it costs the student an exorbitant amount of money. A great article, by Zachary Jack in Inside Higher Ed, notes that general education gives students a more well-rounded education that will assist them in their future careers or further studies. However, as tuition continues to rise, so too does the conversation around if reducing general education requirements might be one way of addressing student costs and completion rates. These are tough questions to answer, as one commenter on the article notes that the reduction in general education could thereby reduce what students get out of their undergraduate experience.



Another argument about this point is that as one matriculates through college, they’ll spend more time on their direct interests.  At the minimum, most students will take 60 units, or roughly 15-20, classes directly related to their field of study at the upper-division level. Naturally, a general education provides the students the education that will help them to best succeed at the upper-division level. Furthermore, and I concede that this may be a semi-faulty argument, the student is going to spend 2 years learning about their field of study. By having a general education that supports this, students who wish to study at the graduate level (which the author’s hypothetical student would likely do, given they are a history major) and will be better prepared to perform deeper forms of research, past just those that are qualitative in nature.

Next, the author transitions into the idea that MOOCs are available to study topics from top universities for free. This is certainly true, and is actually an incredibly important argument for two main reasons. Firstly, I am of the believe that MOOCs are one way that we can further democratize and break down access issues to higher education. Secondly, some of these companies, such as Coursera, are partnering with universities to offer degree programs and certifications that a student could obtain through them for a relatively good price.

But, the issue with MOOCs currently is that they can’t provide the student an ability to work with people who know the subject better than oneself or who can guide (or be a mentor for) one’s learning in a way that promotes the most important foundational topics to build upon (at least in an interpersonal and more meaningful way).  In certain fields, and especially for students who plan to go onto graduate study, a MOOC course cannot provide this more individualized opportunity to go past what is offered in the course. In my own studies, my professors were available to offer additional opportunities to learn, either by offering additional readings, field trips to off-site locations, or by having discussions during their office hours where my learning could be taken to the next level.

Lastly, the author of the post assumes that people are able to direct their own learning at a level that is equivalent to a college education. Most students just simply aren’t self-directed or self-motivated enough to succeed on their own.  A dissertation cited in a study by Papia Bawa found that 40 to 80% of online students drop out of their courses. And the on-ground percentage is not much better, with roughly 50% of students not completing their on-ground programs, according to the Washington Post. Now, arguably this is somewhat shifting away from the primary issue raised by the author, however, I would argue that one cannot satisfy their intellectual curiosity if they aren’t in a structured setting that promotes their interest in learning (unless they are one of the rarer students who is strongly self-motivated).

As such, it is my belief that a university program, its faculty, and support staff will always give students the best opportunity to learn. An area that is often overlooked is how much non-class learning can take place at a college campus. A student can join a club, go to on-campus guest lectures, meet people from around the world and have access to library materials right at the palm of their hands. Will the internet continue to change our learning landscape moving forward? Certainly!
Will it do a better job than a strong academic program, with motivated faculty who care about their students? At this point in time, most certainly not.  

If you have a distinct interest in a subject, your local university is likely the best place to push yourself intellectually to gain a deeper knowledge about that field.

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