The Bubble and The Recession Challenging the Higher Education Ethos
A slight breeze lifted the hairs on my arm as I stepped out of my dorm room for my Sunday morning run. Serenity dominated campus, imposing a calming silence on my still-waking senses. I inhaled deeply and the fresh, crisp air rushed into my lungs. I passed underneath the threshold above the Memorial steps, and the world hit me with a blunt reminder over the head: my Sunday “morning” run actually began around noon, and the entire world beyond Tufts’ campus’ perimeter had long rolled out of bed, yawned and rubbed their eyes, drank their coffee, and went to whatever obligations they had this morning. Cars whizzed by me, their stench of gasoline affecting the air just enough to cause me to cough slightly. The sound of a metal bat rang out in the distance and parents urged their children on in kinder-kick. Everywhere around me, the people of Somerville and Medford seemed to knowingly smile as I ran by. This world existed so separately to the one I had awoken in, that I could spend weeks without seeing it.
Therein lies the paradox of higher education: an institution paid to prepare us for a world beyond our childhood borders attempts to do so by isolating itself from its environment. Does withdrawal beyond ivy covered walls, piles of books, and mountains of homework enable us to transcend the boundaries of adolescence or simply erect new ones?
A recent study by Rutgers University indicated that only about 50% of college graduates from 2006-2010 have found gainful employment since graduation. Obviously, the recession-impaired economy drives this trend, however we must examine its consequences. These numbers jeopardize the general wisdom that a college education guarantees a high paying job that allows the relative continuation of a lifestyle from adolescence into adulthood. For those of us coming from upper middle class backgrounds, we counted on higher education to provide us the necessary tools to obtain and then manage employment. I fear that the bubble created by these modern educational institutions may not prepare us properly for a life with scarcer job opportunities than afforded to previous generations.
How can universities tackle this issue? In short, I’m not sure. However, they can start by integrating their campuses with the outside world. Removing the isolationist tactic that now prevails most residential quads will give students a broader picture of the world they will enter upon receiving their diplomas. Beyond our scholastic boundaries, individuals of all ages struggle with the uncertainty of the economy. It’s time that we ended the fallacy that college education guarantees employment. While it certainly helps our chances, schools must halt the practice of operating under the assumption that we will join the workforce easily upon graduation. Perhaps the best thing that any school can teach us now is that we always need a back-up plan.
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