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  • 1. Kaitlin KeeganEssay 5November 18, 2010 The American Dream, the idea that has been glorified for centuries and has kept thegenerations pushing onward, in hopes of bettering themselves and their families, has not dimmedin the last twenty some years. The concept is essentially the same, but the means have changedover the years. In the past, hard work, sweat, sometimes blood, but always tenacity were thehallmark traits for success. Now, it seems that without a college education, one cannot hope tosucceed comfortably in modern American culture. Students have progressed from the traditionalcollege-age students and have developed to include middle aged adults seeking a betterpaycheck. Regardless of the age, almost all of the students are going in order to get a bettercareer and a higher salary, not necessarily to simply learn. Colleges see this increased desire foreducation and care not what the motivation is, but simply that more students wish to pay themoney for their services. Education seems to have lost the original value of enlightenment andhas morphed into the means in which students and institutions alike seek to gain profit,regardless perhaps of their qualifications. Not wanting to seem un-American, yet still smellingthe promise of profit, Universities graciously accept anyone who can foot the bill into their hallsof learning. Criticisms on the educational system have been voiced for decades however, and severalparticularly enlightening articles are referenced within this essay. An anonymous professor, self-dubbed “Professor X” laments in his article the “Ivory Tower” about the flaws of the educationalsystem that he/she must deal with personally. Being an English professor teaching an intro to
  • 2. English night-class, Professor X often must deal with the under-qualified students that attempt toget a degree, despite their lack of proficiency. Professor X’s article is mainly an anecdote thatemphasizes the position he is in as “the man who has to lower the hammer”, and hold theseunder-qualified students to college standards, and often give them the failing grade. MartyNemko however, author of “America’s Most Overrated Product: The Bachelor’s Degree”,discusses in his article the overemphasized importance of the bachelor’s degree, and offersgrueling statistics and arguments that support in favor of some people abstaining from highereducation and pursuing other, just as respectable career paths. Zachary Karabell, in his essay“The $10,000 Hoop”, questions the wisdom of the automatic respect most Americans give tosomeone who holds a degree. Karabell insinuates that a higher education is almost overrated,and that street-smarts can never be replaced by a plaque on the wall with a dean’s signature on it. Despite the numerous intellectuals that rant and rave about the flaws of the educationalsystem, it is almost assumed that most people will pursue at least a bachelor’s degree. Studentsfrom all age groups seek a degree in hopes of a higher salary, and are willing to invest thousandsof dollars into this gambit. Colleges, when looked upon with vigorous scrutiny, reveal to be littlemore than businesses, striving to make as much money as they can. Nemko articulates thiseloquently, stating in his essay “Colleges and universities are businesses, and students are a costitem, while research is a profit center.” This often means cutting corners and keeping professorsfor their research value regardless of their teaching merit. Often times classes are taught byteacher aides, not actual professors themselves, and large lecture classes can run up to well overa hundred students, leaving virtually no one-on-one student-teacher time. In fact, according to asurvey conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles, 44.6 percent of studentsreported that they were unsatisfied with the quality of the instruction they received, and 43.5
  • 3. percent of freshman confessed at feeling frequently bored during class (Nemko). And whilestudents have every right to find fault with their institutions, it does not seem to affect theirdecision to pursue a degree at their University. The desire for the degree is greater than thedesire for knowledge, and universities are quite willing to exploit this. In fact, colleges are willing to accept and exploit just about anyone if they wish to spendthe money and attend their campuses. Students that are not ready for college are applyinganyway, in hopes of advancing farther in their careers. Often times these students are at least intheir thirties, haven’t been in a classroom in years, and are also trying to juggle a home life alongwith their studies (Professor X). Professor X in his article talks about the frequency in which hehas these students in his classes, and the frequency in which he must fail them. No one however,is willing to say no to these people. One such student, “Mrs. L.”, in his article serves as hisexample around which he bases his conjectures. “Mrs. L, it was clear to me, had never been onthe internet.” This sort of person, no matter how ambitious and earnest in their attempts ofadvancement, should not be allowed to take a class that they will certainly fail. I can tell youpersonally, that it is impossible to get through college now without having at least the bareminimum in computer skills. That a university is willing to accept the money from someonesuch as Mrs. L, someone who is blatantly incompetent, without trying to screen them out, or atleast offer a warning, is plain greed. Colleges are not worried about how these failing students’grades must reflect on their own institutions. There is no hand holding in education, everyonemust look out for themselves, and if someone waves the money, the colleges will take them. And while it is easy to see as an outsider looking in on one of these incompetent studentsthat it is obvious that they will fail, and say that it is foolish for them to attempt something soimpossible that they might as well try to climb Mount Everest naked as well get an education, it
  • 4. is understandable that these people would want a piece of the pie. Colleges are certainly justifiedin saying that people who hold degrees statistically make more money than those who don’t.Also many jobs that previously would not, now require at least some post-high-school education(Professor X). Besides, most people do not want to flip burgers for the rest of their lives, andassume that a college degree is the only way to get there now. They may not be wrong. Karabellpoints out that Clinton, in his State of the Union address, said that “higher education is anAmerican birthright” (Karabell 252). Most Americans seem to hold the same viewpoint, andtend to look down on those who are not college educated as if they were stupid. In fact, such astigma holds true to this, that employers will often higher between two equally competentindividuals the person who has a degree over the person who does not. As Karabell puts it, notso delicately, “It’s now presumed that someone without a college degree is stupid, because it’snow so easy to go to college that only the dim, dense, and unmotivated are thought to steer clearof it.” Of course if businesses hold this belief, it is no wonder that an ever increasing amount ofpeople are going to go for the degree. When a whole society is based on profit, and that profitcenters in on an education, everyone who can will attempt to better their prospects. This idea of success and education all boils back down to our root American ideals.Americans are optimistic and stand fast with the idea that if someone wants to better themselves,then damn, let them do it. So it only stands to reason that these middle aged, strugglingAmericans would want to better themselves and if that means hitting the books, then they will, ifthe colleges will let them. And chances are, the colleges will do just that. Professor X hits it onthe nose, pointing out that “Adult education…is a substantial profit center for many colleges.”Of course these colleges will facilitate these adults, and will gladly accept their payments. Forcolleges to recommend to some of these older students that they are not fit for university style
  • 5. work would be un-American, it would be, as again X states “…harsh and classist and British, asthough we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines.” No one is willing to tell these peoplethat they can’t cut it, because in American culture, anyone can cut it if they just work a littleharder. Colleges are protected by these ideas, and stand free of implications. They don’t care ifthese students succeed; once again the main thing they care about is their cash flow. While it is easy to point ones finger, get up on the soap box, and criticize the EducationalInstitutions for being corrupt, money mongering, evil crackpots, these issues are really not inblack white. Colleges aren’t evil, and scheming, they simply just want what everyone elsewants: money. In their mind, it’s not their decision whether or not someone should be allowed togo to college; that is up to the student. They don’t care who is qualified, who is not, or whoanyone is. They can twist the American ideal of equality and say that everyone can go tocollege, and they’d be right. Of course anyone can go to college, but not just anyone cansucceed. As Professor X says in his essay, “Everyone wants to triumph. But not everyone can –in fact, most can’t. If they could, it wouldn’t be any kind of triumph at all.”