Academic, Uncategorized

Thoughts on “Big” Universities


I have been reading a book for my media criticism course here at Whitworth University titled The End of Big: How the Digital Revolution Makes David the New Goliath. I highly recommend it to anyone that is curious about how going digital has changed our society. There are a lot of interesting thoughts within this book that I would like to share with you.

The chapter that has by far intrigued me the most was titled “Big Minds.” In this chapter the author, Niko Mele, pitches out the idea that big universities are in decline, showing a number of various “alternative” methods to attain a degree or certification.

As a student at a private, Christian, liberal arts university I can definitely see his point. The disadvantages to an “elite education” as he calls it are ever present, especially at larger universities than Whitworth. Mele makes the statement that big universities are more focused on making sure that students end up with careers and making money rather than focusing on their education. Mele quotes retired Yale English professor William Deresiewicz as saying “Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers…” (emphasis added).

I never highlight or underline in books, but I underlined that statement as quickly as I could. In my academic pursuits, I have been constantly reminded that my education is there to make sure I get a good job after graduation–that’s it. Getting a good career is the most important thing, with my education being second. I suppose that I have come to just accept this as the norm and not question it, but reading that passage really hit home with me.

When did education become more about meeting standards, quotas, and directing towards careers that make money and not about truly educating our students? Why are professors encouraged to do more scholarly research and publishing and not encouraged to take more time to educate their students?

This is generally not a problem that I see at Whitworth, since it is such a small community of professors and students. And that is the reason that I came here–not for the students or the activities: for the professors and the potential relationships that could build.

I know every single professor in my department on a first-name basis and have had the privilege to be in at least one class with each of them. Some only one class over a year ago was all it took for them to still remember my name and what I am involved in. That is incredible. Professors at larger universities don’t even interact with their students a large majority of the time or are too busy focused on their research–they have TAs to help students with homework and to grade. The professor is there to give a lecture and leave (as a general statement, though I realize that I am generalizing extensively).

Along with a lack of professor-student interaction, college tuition is skyrocketing nationwide. It has become so expensive to go to college that parents often can’t afford it and students resort to loans. I love Whitworth, but even with multiple scholarships and grants I will be graduating with over $60,000 in debt, if not more. How can that be seen as a productive way to send graduates into the workforce?

In the digital age that we are currently in, it is much easier to get an education than it was 20 years ago thanks to the internet. Colleges and universities all around the world have begun hosting online courses to draw in more students, and there are even colleges that are solely online. Each of these courses has lectures, assignments, tests, and the like all at the convenience of the student. The online format also allows one course to be taken by thousands of people–the increased output of students alone is worth noting.

Though there are many benefits to online education and to attending an established university or college, they each have their downfalls. And in this day and age, it is really up to the student to decide what is best for him/her–there are more options than there were even just 10 years ago. Going to a well-known, established college or university is no longer the only choice.

Maybe now that students have more options, more people have the opportunity to be educated; for a price. And there is always a price. I may pay more than double of other students going to public universities in Washington state, but to me it is worth it. I have had the opportunity to grow as a student and as a person, with the help and guidance of my professors and peers. I don’t know many other universities where a student can walk in to their professors office at any time or call them at home with questions and not be greeted by an extremely angry professor.

Whitworth has shown me what education can be like–professors that care. Students that care. People that really want to make a difference and learn for the sake of learning, not just to attain a degree and career.

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