Mar 12, 2019 in Sociology

Much has been said on the importance and the necessity of higher education for any young person growing up and expecting to lead a good life. This has been partly fueled by the ever rising costs of living and general dwindling of the world economy that make it a good idea that one needs to have a steady source of income; and education gives the ‘best’ option at achieving the goal. Thus, over the years, the demand for higher education, specifically from universities, both private and public, has been on the rise. The service providers on the other hand have doubled their efforts at ensuring their now on demand product (higher education) is never short in the market. However, it is these efforts by the service providers (universities) that have exposed them (providers) to severe criticism and skepticism at the quality of services they produce. Some of the complaints come from companies and other employers who claim that the graduates who they get to employ are only half-baked to cope with the demands of their jobs. The other parties are parents who are frustrated by the fact that they pay hefty sums of money for their children’s education only for them to fail getting a job after graduating. In such circumstances, it does not come as a surprise that people after graduation come out to criticize the courses they took in university; especially, when they have failed to secure a job with their qualification. In summary, all of them tend to agree that the quality of university education has been watered down. In the following essay, articles from four different authors are used to try to understand the main concerns of the stakeholders on university education and the possible approach for solving the current problems. Each has a different understanding of what higher education is, and on how to gauge its ‘value’ after the student has graduated.

The general argument made by Sanford J. Ungar in his article, “The New Liberal Arts”, is that the arts are not a dispensable, market-less, expensive and counterproductive courses that should be done with from university curriculum. He says that studying liberal arts is a more wholesome education than studying sciences and research. In this text, Ungar suggests that instead of the arts being viewed as less important compared to the sciences in earning one a job, they should be viewed as equally productive. More to say, they should be viewed as making one more prepared to work in any environment given that he or she shall be able to use knowledge gained in studying the arts to adapt in whatever environment and thus be more productive in the long run compared to the graduate who concentrated on sciences only. He labors to the many false perceptions on the value of arts in graduates’ lives.

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In my view, Ungar is partly right and partly prejudiced in his argument in defense of the arts. He is right by pointing out the need to make one more adaptable to any environment. However, he is wrong to only concentrate on countering the fallacies about arts instead of taking the time to enumerate or produce a better argument seeking to show the real impact of arts in everyday life. For instance, the fact that he is the head of an arts college and the fact that he stands only to correct the negative perceptions about arts shows that he is more interested in safeguarding the name of the institution, which he heads, instead of seeking to show the importance of liberal arts in society. He is more into ‘it is not’ than ‘it is’. Thus, although he may have seen the argument as being in defense of the arts, I maintain that is was in defense of his institution and thus failed to show the real value of higher education in society.

The second article is the Kenyon Commencement Address, delivered by David Foster Wallace in May 2005. The general argument made by Wallace in his speech, is that education in arts is for the benefit of the graduate in himself or herself, with the community being a beneficiary as a result of the transformation of the individual. He goes to greater lengths to give a number of analogies to illustrate his belief that the graduate of liberal arts is better balanced in society that those without any knowledge in arts. He says that the real value of education is for one being able to choose when, how and about what to think about; on what meaning an event has without being subjective. He is thus convinced that when the graduate finally achieves the ability to assign meaning to events by voluntarily altering them in his mind, his fellow human beings shall benefit since he or she will be less judgmental on their wrong doings.

In my view, Wallace is right, because he does not support the dogmatic teaching that asks the student to accept information as facts and reproduce them when needed; but instead, he sees liberal arts as the emancipation of the individual from his own prejudices, an attainment of a higher self, a level at which he will treat each person with the deserved dignity and little prejudice. For instance, he proposes a different way a liberal arts graduate should view the daily irritation he may face after a hard day at work. He says that instead of seeing the man rushing in traffic as a nuisance, the arts graduate will consider the possibility of that person being in more hurry than him, like when taking a sick child to hospital, which will make the arts graduate less inclined to see the other motorist as a nuisance. Since he embraces the wholesome nature of a human being and the need for patience and compassion with other human beings, I am inclined to agree with his view of the value of liberal arts education; to liberate the individual and let him have the ability to view situations positively and assign the ‘better’ meaning to different situations. Better in the sense that the meaning assigned will be less spiteful and more human. 

The third article is by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. The general point made by these authors is that the quality of university education provided does not reflect the amount of resources, in money and time that are spent in attaining it. They say that colleges take on numerous responsibilities without being able to do any of those tasks satisfactorily. They further argue that many of the researches being done are not useful, with a conclusion that education has been turned into a business industry that so far has escaped the regulation of the government like the other financial institutions. In this text, the authors are suggesting that university education, as is now being provided, should cost far much less that the present cost. Or, if the cost is to remain high as it is now, the quality of the education offered should be improved. They go forth to give a list of a few universities they view as better managed and thus giving better quality education recommending them to be the bench-marks for the other universities. According to them, a graduate is considered better educated is he learns as much as possible from his professors, hence the advocacy for a smaller student to teacher ratio and their preference of institutions where more professors than Adjuncts are the lecturers. In conclusion, they belief that the few universities with low student to lecturer ratio should be the prototypes for the other universities.

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In my view, Andrew and Claudia are right in their view because they agitate for a more personalized training that attends to the needs of individual students to ensure maximum gain. For instance, if a student has direct contact with a professor and the professor has only a small number of students to attend to, it becomes easier for them to learn faster and master their subjects better. The professor will also be able to mentor them in a better manner. Although they are a bit subjective in making some universities exceptions, their overall argument is for the promotion of the quality of education. They conclude, and I agree with them, that the value of education is in liberating the individual so he or she can be creative on his or her own and come up with solutions in challenging situations that are not entirely based on book knowledge.

The last article is by Liz Addison. The general argument she makes in her article is that community colleges are better than universities in preparing one for life. More specifically, Addison argues that the two years spent in community college are better than the four years spent in a university. She writes that the community college is more important to the nation than the universities since it offers affordable services to those in need of them and that it reaches to all communities irrespective of the economic and ethnic backgrounds. It is thus more suited to reach all those who need higher education than the university according to Addison. She seems inclined to defend those who have limited resources to afford education in university, since the cost of university education keeps rising every day. She concludes that it is better to have many students graduating from community colleges with many dreams they aspire to achieve than having many graduated from the universities with no visions other than reproducing what they only learned. 

In my view, Addison is right because she brings to the fore the other alternative to the ever increasing cost of university education. More specifically, I believe that her proposal for more students to join community college instead of struggling in trying to get into university is a good option for those who are financially challenged. It can benefit many students especially from the rural areas to get a chance to better their education and pursue their dreams in university at the right time.

In all the four articles, the writers emphasize on the need to educate graduates for their liberation with the value of education being the liberation of the individual rather than the financial or material gains accrued after the graduate gets the job. All the texts agree that the graduates’ relationship with fellow human beings should be made better by the education he or she receives in university and that their knowledge should improve them before the community benefits as a result of their improvement. 

In conclusion, the value of university education is not primarily financial or material gains, but rather the intellectual development of the individual, his improvement in adapting to different situations and being able to relate well with fellow human beings without much prejudice. In essence, university education is liberation education for the graduate, not education for job employment and wealth accumulation alone. 


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