COLUMN: College is still relevant


Dan Hahn

Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Dan Hahn, Columnist

In a recent segment on “The Daily Show,” guest hosted by Roy Wood Jr., evaluated the shortcomings of the American higher education system.
The segment led with a clip of students declaring that college is basically unaffordable, then he went on to show a clip of Elon Musk saying that college is not necessary because anyone can learn anything for free online.
Wood  continues by reporting that some European colleges offer free undergraduate programs to international students, including Americans.

The guest host wraps it all up concisely with a rant: “so, long story short, college is too expensive, it doesn’t help you get a job, you can learn the same stuff on a computer, or in Iceland or Berlin, half the employers will train you for free, this [expletive] is the biggest scam since Bitcoin, we should abolish college!”

There is a reason why some people turn to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” for their news. In some sense, I beat their writers to the punch in a recent column I wrote for The News when I mentioned that the Manpower Group published their 2023 Workforce Trends Report which finds that many employers are forgoing degree requirements and are instead focusing on skills obtained through work or life experience.

Now, I am a huge proponent of higher education because it has given me the opportunity for a quality of life that many of my peers without a college degree do not get to enjoy.

And, college should not be abolished, though its reputation can surely use an upgrade: yes, it is an institution ripe for modernization. Also, since generations of students are taking on crushing debt for degrees that are losing their relevance, there is a serious problem that needs to be corrected, and soon.

Now, if we are going to look at pop culture, and specifically entertainment for advice about college, then we should also take a quote from the Paramount+ show “Tulsa King” where the character Dwight Manfretti (played by Sylvester Stallone) has a few choice things to say about college in the episode titled “Caprice”:

“Do you think anyone really [cares] about what your major is? English literature, biology, whatever. The whole point of a college degree is to show a potential employer that you showed up someplace four years in a row, completed a series of tasks reasonably well, and on time. So if he hires you, there’s a semi-decent chance that you’ll show up there every day and not [screw] his business up.”

Showing up every day is indeed an important lesson, especially considering the drudgery that can be a 16-week academic term.

Students’ ability to maintain a high level of academic performance from the start of the semester through to the end of final exams is no small feat. To do this repeatedly for four years or longer is miraculous, at least it is for me. 

And while a person can certainly learn valuable lessons about commitment outside the institution of higher education, college is one place where unlike other environments, students are exposed to a diverse and dynamic learning environment that cannot be found elsewhere. 

College has many more opportunities than alternatives like trade schools, online degrees, or the “real world” have to offer. College life provides exposure to a myriad of peer groups, arts, lectures, advisors, and all kinds of people from diverse backgrounds. If a person has a disability, the institution will provide an accommodation, too.

In college a person will be exposed to books she might otherwise never read, and genres of arts and performances that regular folk may never be exposed to, or mentors that may see some kind of spark that no one else did. 

In higher education, we are forced to continually reflect on our values and our positions, and we are challenged in ways that most people outside of academia may never get to experience. We become flexible in our world view, and adaptable when new information comes to light. 

College is the intellectual equivalent of the most fertile ground, and conditions are as ripe as ever for people willing to learn, grow, and work hard.

Yes, you can get a job and educate yourself outside of college, but I still think college is the best place for a person to glimpse their true potential and be exposed to the many, many roads available to be a well-rounded citizen as well as a success in the modern world.

Dan Hahn is an English composition/rhetoric graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.