this is just a short argument on why i believe a university experience is worth having, no matter who you are. i have a friend i was discussing this with a few months ago, and for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, they were rather defensive about the idea of college as worth doing for everybody. i'm not going to go in to that, i'm just explaining what sparked this particular line of thinking, because it might sound a little weird otherwise.
see, i'm NOT going to argue a college education is necessary to a fulfilling career - it's not. and i'm NOT going to argue that it makes your opinion more worth listening to than someone who's been slugging dirt digging ditches all day long - it doesn't, and i belong to a profession that pretty much illustrates that point handsomely(1). for the majority of a large number of areas, including math and physics, engineering, economics, biology, philosophy, literary arts, many areas of liberal arts, etc, you really can self-educate to a large degree. there are some areas where it really helps to have a mentor, but you can also fudge that by talking to people who work in those specialized areas for clarification.
in short, i don't believe you need a college education to succeed these days, and i certainly don't believe you need one just to get a job that makes you happy. we've spent an awful lot of time in this society celebrating the college education as *the* road to a job - and any graduate who's gone through lean times will tell you that's not true. and it's an idea that should be completely ignored if your idea of the perfect job is to work with your hands as a carpenter or brick-layer, or a forge-worker. the trades are under-sold in this country, which is why you see Mike from 'Dirty Jobs' pleading with people to become carpenters and build houses in tv ads.
so why do i think going to college will benefit everyone? it took me a while to formulate this answer, but i truly believe what it implies: going to college is like going to the Grand Canyon.
when you go to the Grand Canyon, you have an understanding of your smallness in the vastness of time, the grandeur of the world or Divinity, how ever you put it. seeing raptors circle on thermals *below* you as you stand at the rim is awe-inspiring. climbing down is like going through layers of history in the rocks, and perching on Cedar Point was one of the most spiritual experiences i've ever had. i truly believe everyone would benefit from going to the Grand Canyon and seeing a true wonder of the world.
by the same token, it's not going to kill you if you don't go. you can indeed live without ever seeing the Grand Canyon, and 90% of the world's population does fine without it. but if you can make it, it should be on your bucket list.
and that's what i think about the university experience: there's something nebulous and hard-to-define about college that only exists in that kind of dedicated environment. before i went to see the Grand Canyon, i could tell you all about it - how it was formed, who lived there, the thermals and various climates, and what Hoover Dam did to the farmlands. i knew it. but i didn't *know* it, until i went to *see* it. my life is that much richer for having spent time there, as short as it was.
i believe the university experience is the same way: you don't need it to learn the things they teach in those halls, and you can have a great career and wonderful life just fine without it. in fact, i'd go to university right out of high school these days only if i really thought i wanted to do something that required a degree (like aerospace engineering....).
and it's not something i think taxpayers should pay for gratis - university is an academic placement that should be earned, by grades or dollar bills, or both. someone saying we should pay for everyone's college education sounds to me an awful lot like someone saying everyone should get recognized as a sports athlete, regardless: those trophies mean more if you work for them, and i'd like it to stay that way. high school is already tough on those who want an education, given all those who don't and have to be there - paying for everyone's college is going to make it so much like high school you won't be able to tell the difference, and then there'll have to be quaternary institutions to make up for it... and actually *teach* people something, instead of discipline 20-yr-olds who should know better.
but the way it is now, there's something about that academic environment, focused on learning and education and an atmosphere of possibility that's just amazing. and not only should it stay that way, but it should be on everybody's bucket list. not, as i said before, necessarily to make you a better job candidate - but to make you a more widely experienced you.
and that's my post today.
(1) i'm an aerospace engineer by trade, and in our ranks we have, as my father put it, more than the usual number of arrogant assholes.