When College Goes Club Med
Recently by Paul Gottfried: How England Helped Start the Great War
I belong to a generation that still values what is now indiscriminately referred to as higher education. What that once meant was going to a four-year college, if ones high-school grades showed promise, and in return for about $700 each semester spending the next four years immersed in books. Back then we studied traditional disciplines, such as math, languages, and those liberal arts that still defined our Western civilization. If a bright student wanted to branch out to other cultures and languages, like Chinese or Japanese, he or she was encouraged to do so. Unlike some colleges nowadays, we most certainly did not have hands-on learning. The prevalent view was that if students didnt want to read books, they shouldnt be in college.
Not insignificantly, we lived like medieval monks. We had next to no control about what was served in the dining room; and watching TV in the evening was only possible if one shared this amenity with other adolescents in some far-off corner of the campus. We were in college strictly to learn, with few learning devices. We were definitely not there to hang out, play video games in our dorm rooms, or choose from multiple culinary options in an eating area that looked like the circular dining room in the Hotel Hershey.
I used to get dirty looks toward the end of my teaching career when I asked students in Western Civilization courses what books they had read. These students didnt open books, perhaps on principle. Ive no idea why theyre in college, except to meet significant others and to enjoy leisure time at the expense of their parents or of American taxpayers. As I like to point out, such college residents are students in the same sense I would be a player in the national hockey league, if I signed up in a program that allowed me to imagine I was something I was not. Of course, since these kids, or their enablers, are paying at least one hundred times more than I did for my education, they get their illusions and sybaritic tastes indulged.
Lest I forget, let me mention that the number of administrators I recall seeing at Yale University in the mid-1960s was a fraction of the army of paper-pushers that is there now. I suspect these paper-pushers are now earning salaries that correspond to the tuition that Yale requires from each undergraduate, which is $58,000 a year. Although this money is icing on the cake, since most Ivy League and at least some state universities could survive from their endowments, Yale and schools of similar caliber do provide enormous professional advantages to their graduates. I’m not sure what comparable advantages accrue to those who attend considerably less prestigious institutions of learning and are paying almost as much for the experience.