The Role of College Education in the Life of Students
The role of education has changed over the time from obtaining of pure theoretical knowledge to the development of practical skills. However, currently, education has also become a means of receiving better-paid positions and gaining economic benefit. This essay argues that the primary functions of the modern college education is not only gaining theoretical studies and practical skills but also maintaining social relationships as well as developing critical thinking and creativity.
Daniel Eugene Williams (2010) in his work noted that the role of college education shifted from the “superior education, a foundation in literature and science that was common to medicine, law, and theology” to practical application of the obtained knowledge after the foundation of land-grant schools in the late 1860s (p.153). Colleges became oriented on teaching alumnus who were not theoreticians, laboratory researchers, or simple craftsmen. The American students were taught to be “men who could take charge of mines, manufactories, the construction of public works, the conduct of topographical and other scientific surveys” (Williams, 2010, p.156). This article forms the background for the personal understanding that one of the primary purposes of the education is the effective combination of obtaining artistic and scientific theoretical knowledge and its application in practice.
However, it should be noted that the theoretical knowledge and practical skills are not the only benefits which can be obtained from a successful studying and graduation from a college. The additional attention should be paid to the higher income level of individuals who have a college degree. Louis Menand (2011) provided the following statistics: “in 2008, the average income for someone with an advanced degree…was $ 83,144; for someone with bachelor’s degree, it was $ 58,613; for someone with only a high-school education, it was $ 31,283” (p.1). These figures show the high demand of high education and the reward of the credentials.
Valuing credentials higher than real knowledge, current students “look for ways to get credentials as painlessly as possible” without attempting to obtain more knowledge and skills (McArdle, 2012, p.1). After graduation from college, such individuals will create more competition on the well paid positions. Due to the lack of real knowledge, many of these people will not be able to maintain these positions and to cover their debts for the expensive education. Megan McAdle (2012) described this situation by the following, “for many, the most tangible result of their four years is the loan payments, which now average hundreds of dollars a month on loan balances in the tens of thousands” (p.1).
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Valuing credentials rather than knowledge has also changed the students’ perceptions of the studied subjects. Engell and Dangerfield (1998) in their work described the decline of humanities caused by the fact that students are more oriented on the subjects which will help them to obtain better positions in the future. Furthermore, the authors noted that modern educators also became more oriented on obtaining profits instead of teaching students and providing them with knowledge that they can apply in real life situations. Instead, they pay more attention to researches, which are “rewarded more than teaching” (Engell & Dangerfield, 1998, p.6). This means that students obtain less knowledge for the constantly increasing price of education. Thus, the primary role of the college, which is meant to make people more educated and skilled in their fields, is being neglected.
At the same time, the role of modern college education in the life of students is not limited to obtaining knowledge or receiving the supporting document. Nowadays, attending a college gives students access to a network of relationships that may help them in their further career life (McArdle, 2012). A bright example of such relationship network is the Trojan Alumni network of University of Southern California. This association supports the overall advancement of the educational institution by engaging all alumni in the social activities as well as creating the culture of free mutual support and philanthropy and acting as the force that represents the interests of all the Trojan family (USC Alumni Association, n.d.). The Trojan Alumni Network is represented through affiliated clubs in different locations all over the world, where it supports generational and multicultural communities. The members of these groups help each other in their professional path, provide social assistance and other services, such as insurance, auto and travel, counseling, and render financial support to the students of the University of Southern California in the form of scholarships. The Association helps to find fellow members of the university with the shared interests and industries. All these benefits show that in the modern society, social networks that are created while studying in a college help people to form stronger and more stabilized relationships in their future career and social life. These networks help students to develop their professional image and find better working place with more advantageous professional opportunities (Wankel & Wankel, 2011). The strengths of these connections are based on the fact that people form stable relationships during a long time period. Their image is formed erstwhile during their studies in the college. Such relationships are considered to be more stable and stronger, because they are created on the background of shared ideas and views.
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Such networks also help to build multicultural relationships during college education. People are engaged in similar activities (studying or doing sports together), they share their thoughts and opinions. Consequently, multicultural barriers became less sharp. The created links and networks help students to understand the representatives of other nations and religions, their values and ideas, and respect their point of views. Colleges can be considered as places where different people are united with similar goals: obtaining knowledge or credentials. Thus, this feeling of unity helps them to maintain reliable and trustful relationships based on mutual respect.
Among the values that the American educational system is grounded on, freedom of choice is perhaps one of the most important. The role it plays in students’ perceptions and experiences while in college can be shown on the comparison of the American and Chinese educational systems, as these systems differ significantly in their approaches. In the U.S. colleges, students can choose directions of education that they are interested in. This enables then to determine the subjects that they feel more attracted to. Unlike the U.S. students, students in Chinese colleges do not have such an opportunity. Thus, they have fewer possibilities to determine the fields in which they are more interested, successful, end efficient. With this approach, they are also unable to discover their strong and weak sides and determine in which directions they can reach better results and develop their personal talents (Greenspan, 2008).
This situation also is also worsened by the existing examination system. While the U.S. college education aims at strengthening students’ individuality and promoting freedom of thought by forcing the development of personal views on certain events and matters, the Chinese college education is more oriented on the creation of defined perceptions of global events and ideas as well as pure memorization (Barlow, 2013). Thus, “American teachers encourage students to find answers to history themselves”, while educators in China prefer to give specific perceptions of the events via “standardized answers to exercises” (Wang, 2012, p.1). The major part of examination in China is represented by tests with the given set of answers, i.e. the students should only determine the correct ones, while the American education aims at forming personal approaches to finding solutions on the set tasks. Thus, the modern U.S. system of education stipulates “personal and intellectual growth” (Menand, 2011, p.1). As per personal understanding, one of the main roles of the modern college education is the preparation of young people to future life by making an emphasis on such skills as the ability to analyze, form personal views, and make steps based on these views. The practical application of knowledge is combined with superior education for making “each man an intelligent, thinking man” (Williams, 2010, p.154).
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As per personal understanding, the major role of the modern college education is the combination of the theoretical knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge together with the establishment of the relevant communications and formation of the creative visions. All these knowledge and skills will help students in their future social life and career. Moreover, the modern education helps students to adapt to changes in the life through teaching the ability to assess the situations and develop solutions of the life issues
Thus, the existing system of college education is rather controversial. As per personal understanding, it should provide theoretical knowledge and enable students to test this knowledge on practice. However, nowadays, it is more oriented on helping youth to apply to better working positions and obtain credentials. Even educators are less interested in the studying process, as they obtain more money for research activities. At the same time, the modern system of education helps to create networks with other students and alumni that are very useful for future life and career. Furthermore, the American system of college education promotes the development of creative thinking and establishing relationships among students, which is even more valuable for successful problem solving than just obtaining knowledge and practicing it.