Students who have fought to further their growth and commitment to higher learning should never have to choose between being buried in debt and obtaining a quality education, regardless of where they come from. Certain colleges have garnered a sore reputation for offering courses that don’t require dedication, and subsequently attract students who lack appreciation and waste the opportunity given to them altogether. Students attend these schools with a preconceived notion that they can slide by, ultimately graduating with no sense of direction or tangible proof of advanced, enlightened learning. While that is most likely not the reputation any university strives for, those factors are entrenched in how students, stakeholders, and society as a whole perceive their value. Whether this is a culture that colleges are purposefully perpetrating or not, it is still an issue that needs to be solved.
The “certain schools” that were mentioned above, from my own personal observation, are typically schools that are considerably more affordable for middle and lower class families, compared to acclaimed private universities that attract wealthier, more privileged prospects. However, even universities with steep tuition rates are often found among “top party school” lists. This shouldn’t be a factor in the decision process, but it’s undeniably a deal breaker. If we want to see change, if we want to offer opportunities for students to be challenged and prosper, higher education needs to not only be accessible but be worth the cost of attendance for those who earn a spot in the classroom. Universities need to set forth a positive example for prospective students, and that starts with admitting those with high caliber and higher aspirations. Students that have worked towards a brighter future, only to find themselves in a university with that doesn’t value the need for top-tier education, will be lost. This cannot continue to happen.
Value can be delivered in a variety of ways. Five years ago, while touring every college campus in the Northeast and preparing my top five list, the unspoken elephant in the room during each tour and open house was the need for value and the possibility for personal potential in my undergraduate career. I left nearly every campus with a numb indifference until I visited RIT.
I was immediately welcomed by options I hadn’t known existed, one of them being the opportunity to co-op for a semester as a full-time student, while owing no tuition. Not to mention, I could study abroad with a satellite campus in Europe, I could envision myself working for companies such as Google and Microsoft, I could take technical classes while earning a business degree, I could meet students from all ends of the globe, all while never leaving my hometown. A school that had lived in my own backyard, but had always been overlooked, soon swelled and prevailed in comparison to the others that had nothing to wow their audience with but shamelessly asked for $47,000 a year. RIT was the first school that demonstrated their prudent and progressive attitude to rise above the rest. Quickly, my top five list vanished, and I applied early decision. I never filled out another college application.
Higher education is a business, a robust and rigorous one. Just as we try to prevent ourselves from being scammed by advertisers who attempt at stealing the pennies from our pockets, we need to keep our eyes peeled when deciding where to spend our time and money for four precious years.
Universities that deliver little to no value will, quite obviously, never attract students who are seeking it. However, this burden does not fall entirely on the conscious of universities. We need to instill in our students, the leaders of tomorrow, the value of higher education and how it serves our futures. In turn, the institutions that are failing to administer the best experiences for student success will simply fall by the wayside.