US colleges, university system need complete overhaul

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
Liberal Opinion

Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
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President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan has been put on hold until June 2023, while the Supreme Court considers legal challenges to the plan. The moratorium leaves thousands of college graduates struggling with student loan debt in limbo. The soaring cost of higher education is just one reason why some parents may be rethinking the importance of a college degree. Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid says it’s not just about the price tag and believes the U.S. university system needs a complete overhaul.

I want my kids to go to college…if they want to, and if all involved believe that it’s the right move for them personally. If they genuinely believe that traveling, or volunteering, or entering the workforce is the right move for them and they have legitimate reasons to back up this choice…go for it. 

As much as I’d like to think this change of mindset is virtuous and rooted in my understanding of my children as individuals…I mean, sorta. But it also seems apparent to me that there is something very fundamental about the university system in this country that is broken. 

The finances, to start with: I cannot envision a world in which I can pay for a full ride for my kids. Plus room and board? Are you kidding me? And since prices increase by about a bazillion dollars every year – they’ve gone up by over 25% in the last decade alone – God only knows what college will cost when my kids are that age, which means that their decision to attend college is equivalent to a decision to begin adulthood saddled with significant debt. 

More serious problems with the university system as it currently stands:

  1. It’s exploited by the affluent and well-connected.
  2. Admission systems are often unpredictable, arbitrary, and otherwise flawed.
  3. The hamster wheel of admission can be damaging to mental health and skew students’ priorities and aspirations to detrimental effect.

I can personally speak to all of these flaws. The degree of importance my peers and I placed on getting into a highly-ranked university created a level of stress that was insane, visibly unhealthy…and yet encouraged. I saw people get into top schools who I knew from personal experience had paid their way in…um, Jared Kushner. And I know lots and lots of people who struggled to find employment after graduation, even after doing everything “right.” 

The fact is that a college degree still pays off for the majority of graduates, resulting in higher earnings and access to vastly more jobs. But individual circumstances still apply. Not every industry requires a college degree, and some may actually prioritize real-life experience more highly. For some, community college or trade school – both vastly more affordable options – provide the skill set required for career entry.

I started planning for college in the first grade; I distinctly remember crying at the idea that I wouldn’t get into my university of choice. This is obviously insane, but I mention this because for my generation – in my privileged little neck of the woods, at least – college was not viewed as an option. Like, at all. 

And trust me, when I first had kids I felt the same way. “You’ll skip college over my dead body,” et cetera. 

Except that’s not really how I feel anymore. I want my kids to go to college…if they want to, and if all involved believe that it’s the right move for them personally. If they genuinely believe that traveling, or volunteering, or entering the workforce is the right move for them and they have legitimate reasons to back up this choice…go for it. 

As much as I’d like to think this change of mindset is virtuous and rooted in my understanding of my children as individuals…I mean, sorta. But it also seems apparent to me that there is something very fundamental about the university system in this country that is broken. 

The finances, to start with: I cannot envision a world in which I can pay for a full ride for my kids. Plus room and board? Are you kidding me? And since prices increase by about a bazillion dollars every year – they’ve gone up by over 25% in the last decade alone – god only knows what college will cost when my kids are that age. Which means that their decision to attend college is equivalent to a decision to begin adulthood saddled with significant debt. 

More serious problems with the university system as it currently stands:

  1. It’s exploited by the affluent and well-connected.
  2. Admission systems are often unpredictable, arbitrary, and otherwise flawed.
  3. The hamster wheel of admission can be damaging to mental health, and skew students’ priorities and aspirations to detrimental effect.

I can personally speak to all of these flaws: The degree of importance my peers and I placed on getting into a highly ranked university created a level of stress that was visibly unhealthy…and yet encouraged. I saw people get into top schools who I knew from personal experience had paid their way in. And I know lots and lots of people who struggled to find employment after graduation, even after doing everything “right.” 

The fact is that a college degree still pays off for the majority of graduates, resulting in higher earnings and access to vastly more entry-level jobs. But individual circumstances still apply: Not every industry requires a college degree, and some may actually prioritize real-life experience more highly. For some, community college or trade school – both vastly more affordable options – provide the skill set required for career entry. 

Per usual, the young people are outpacing us oldies with their understanding of inequity, and undergraduate enrollment has fallen commensurately – a fact not helped by the introduction of remote learning. More colleges are struggling financially, with the greatest burden falling on smaller, less elite institutions whose loss would provide a devastating gap in access. It seems to me to be a prime time to take a look at a system that clearly needs to be shattered in order to be rebuilt in a way that does the most good for the greatest number of people. 


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