Editorial: Ivory tower not just for jobs

By Staff Editorial

Many don’t consider universities centers of higher education, but rather enablers of higher… Many don’t consider universities centers of higher education, but rather enablers of higher income.

More than ever before, college is viewed as a means to an end. According to an Associated Press-Viacom poll conducted in partnership with Stanford University, most students at four-year institutions decide what major to choose and what school to attend based on one concern: monetary payoff.

Correspondingly, 55 percent of those surveyed said they valued an education that emphasized “success in the working world” over one that emphasized “general knowledge and critical thinking.” Implicit in this statement, of course, is a prioritization of “practical” majors — business, engineering, nursing — over those in the humanities.

In some ways, this makes sense. Even a few distinguished professors in the latter field doubt the practical applications of their teachings. Stanley Fish, for instance, a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, acknowledged in a New York Times column that “You can’t argue – well you can, but it won’t fly – that a graduate who is well-versed in the history of Byzantine art will be attractive to employers (unless the employer is a museum).”

Education, however, has multi-faced, often overlooked benefits, and prospective students must ultimately choose which aspects they value most.

Indeed, it would be a mistake to dismiss the liberal arts as wholly lacking in merit: A degree in philosophy, for instance, might not bump your job application to the top of the pile, but it will allow you to reason in ways that will benefit society.

In fact, a education in the humanities is invaluable to becoming a more responsible, more informed citizen. A thorough understanding of Plato’s “The Republic,” for instance, won’t land you a job, but it significantly aids in selecting political candidates, who often consciously or unconsciously echo its teachings.

Furthermore, although a financially minded college education is important, universities should be the be-all, end-all for those pursuing lucrative job. Indeed, highly specialized technical schools can often be more conducive to achieving one’s desired career than more generalized four-year institutions.

One region that recognizes this is Western Europe. In much of the continent, vocational institutions are much more highly valued, and there is a wider variety of secondary education possibilities. Accordingly, as a February study out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education argues, there is a much clearer correlation between choice of school and career objective.

We’re not here to tell you that the traditional college experience isn’t valuable for career-minded students — merely that treating it exclusively as a financial commodity obscures its possibilities. There are, in fact, innumerable ways to achieve financial success and realize one’s dream job. It’s true that juicing liberal arts education for all its cerebral treasures might seem like a distraction. But at least for some people, “intellectual hedonism,” as the late Honors College Dean Alec Stewart termed it, is a worthy risk to take.