The legislators are frustrated that of the students attending six years at the University of Utah, only 58 percent graduate (and other public colleges are even worse!). The other 42 percent, they presume, are “professional students” existing on the taxpayer dime, young men and women either too lazy or academically unable to complete a course of study.
I can’t quarrel with statistics, but I fail to see that a timeline is the best judge of an education. In the first place, the skyrocketing cost of a university education stops many students from attending full-time; unless they want to rack up $50,000 to $100,000 in student loans, they limit their classes to find work. If the legislators were really concerned about student employment, they would adequately fund the state’s universities to drive down tuition costs.
But my most serious problem with the legislative effort is the need to pile-drive a specific skill into the head of a student.
A college education should be a search for knowledge; the college experience should be a maturation process and an exploration. I don’t believe an 18-year-old needs to count on a certain career. He or she should instead investigate different subjects, even extending themselves in subjects that don’t come easy or that make them uncomfortable.
Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson understood this concept. Nearly 60 years ago he said,” If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever the path takes us. The free mind is no barking dog to be tethered on a ten-foot chain.”
The legislators appear to desire a system in which students choose a career at an early age and then blindly follow that course in college during a four-year or five-year swoop. The problem is that the majority of college graduates end up working in a career not directly tied to their major.
A European religious leader said long ago that the one real object of education is to leave a person in a condition of continually asking questions. This is not the result of a narrow path; it can only be achieved when students are given the opportunity to take a variety of courses, listen to a host of different opinions and figure out for themselves what to believe and what vocation they value.
That type of education can’t be packaged in a simple four-year box, and legislators shouldn’t use college students as the whipping boy to solve the state’s budget problems.