The movie “Orange County,” Jack Black aside, looks like a snoozer. One part of its trailer, though, always strikes me. It’s when Colin Hanks’ character explains to his booze-hound mother why he wants to go to college: “Because,” he says, “that’s what you do after high school.”
It seems to sum up the wave of students who’ve started entering the UC system in the past few years; college is just what you’re supposed to do. While well-meaning dogs viciously bark that education is a right and not a privilege, students feel obligated to enter college without ever giving it much thought. It’s just what you do.
In theory, anyway.
According to the UC’s master plan, created a little over 40 years ago, higher education in California operates on the principle of access for all. It breaks down higher education into three separate forums, each of which is designed for students with separate goals. The UC is the level for those in pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. These are the research institutions where ideas are produced and refined. Next are the Cal Sates, sisters of the UC schools that focus entirely on learning, and based very little – if at all – on research. Finally, there are the community colleges whose purpose is to provide either the first two years of a college education in preparation for either a UC or a Cal State, or as vocational training.
There’s been a shift, however, in the goals of students entering the system of higher education. No longer are they filled with a passion for a particular subject. Instead, they’re intent on finding something they can tolerate – maybe even like – sticking it out for four years and then using their prestigious degree to land a well-paying job.
That’s not to say the pursuit of stability after college is wrong or somehow ignoble. It’s a realistic concern that plagues practically every college student in existence. The UC system and the Cal State system were designed, however, to handle different types of students expecting different things from their education.
Students who enter the UC system because they have a desire to learn through research are frequently finding themselves in the company of those who couldn’t give a damn. This creates an environment that adequately suits none.
In the end, a good number of students at the UC level would be better off attending a Cal State or a community college.
The blame for this blending is on the academic institution itself. Universities receive money for every sack of organs they can pack into their classrooms and lecture halls. The more sacks, the more cash. Colleges recruit all types of people, trying to entice students by using special bells and whistles like sports teams, prime geography and extracurricular organizations. All too often, the actual content of the education is ignored or written in fine print.
The UC is further encouraging the breakdown of the division set forth by the master plan; giving up on the ideals of pure academic pursuit and catering to a market culture. The University itself is starting to show how each major is marketable in its own way, trying to attach a monetary value to the passion for learning.
The UC should focus its energy on finding students who would take full advantage of the environment offered to them instead of trying to sell space to warm bodies who don’t quite yet understand what they want to do with their lives.
As for students, we should all probably spend a little more time reading the fine print and treating our right to an education as a privilege.
Columnist Steven Ruszczycky usually writes something witty here, but right now he has a fever. Living Without Vowels will be back up to speed next Tuesday.