College: a Place to Learn or a Place to Make Grades

It’s really hard to say that going to school is primarily to learn. While we want this to be true, society has pushed on us the importance of grades and resumes to the point where all that seems to matter are the letters on our report cards.

People still try to argue that theory two, from Menand’s “Live and Learn”, applies to our society, but unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. Nowadays, it’s not enough just to get a degree. It’s also about where you go to school, what your grades are, and what other extra-curricular activities you managed to do along the way.

I’ve experienced this first hand here at the University of Michigan. Throughout my high school career, it was constantly drilled into my head what GPA and SAT scores I needed to get in order to be accepted to a top university, as well as what activities I should do to boost my resume.

The competition doesn’t stop when you get to college. I still need to get a certain GPA and activities to build my resume if I want to be competitive for the major I want to pursue and graduate school later on. However, I think sometimes people here underestimate the value that a degree from the University of Michigan provides beyond just the grades and the name on your diploma. Yes, the prestige is important, but there is so much more that the University has to offer.

US News and World Reports conducts one of the most reputable rankings of colleges. They rank colleges based on educational value determined by factors that they think are the most important components of a college education. One of the biggest components, 22.5% is based on academic reputation. Academic reputation is something that is incredibly important, but not quantitative. Their data is drawn from top academics’ opinions on the intangible values such as faculty proficiency and material covered. Other factors that US News takes into account includes retention rate, faculty resources, financial resources, graduation rate, and alumni giving rate. Interestingly enough, student selectivity, what many people think about when determining the prestige of a college, accounts for only 12.5% of the ranking, even though there’s such a strong correlation between the prestige of a college and the caliber of students selected to attend.

This may be explained by the fact that the students themselves are what influence all these other factors that make up the rankings. The quality of students makes the quality of academics improve. You get a better education by being surrounded by better students, because you can not only learn from them, but also use them as inspiration to become a better student yourself. Recently, colleges have been fighting for students with higher stats, and Haven Ladd and colleagues attributes this to colleges wanting to move up in rankings.  He says, “the pull of prestige and legitimacy that comes from moving up in the rankings is a strong force influencing the strategic and operational decisions of presidents and trustees everywhere.”

Here at Michigan, we are taught by some of the best professors in their fields, and surrounded by the top students in the world. I think that this is something we truly take for granted. I have personally learned more here in my two months than I ever imagined possible. Being surrounded by such intelligent and ambitious students has inspired me to push myself to be the best student I can be, and this is something I don’t think all college students experience. Other students at less competitive schools can put in minimal effort, still get good grades, and skate by to get their degree. They’re still getting the degree and the grades, but it has far less value.

In this way, none of Menand’s theories of education fits, but it’s rather a combination of ideals from each of them. What you learn in college is fundamentally important. Your grades, resume, and other quantitative measures are also important. And lastly, the specialization you need to obtain your degree is important, but none of these factors can exist independent of the others.

4 thoughts on “College: a Place to Learn or a Place to Make Grades

  1. This blog brings up a very interesting debate over the purpose of a college education. I agree with the that college is truly a mix of Menand’s theories. But, what is the true purpose of college?
    Is college a system that will weed the superior from the inferior? If so, this corresponds with Menand’s first theory. GPAs and resumes are crucial to get into college, but what is their significance in college? College promotes the ability to give students a broad education that will prepare them for life once they graduate. However, based on my first 2 months, I find college very similar to high school. I am more focused on my GPA than I am on actually learning. However, in my opinion, this is necessary because I am a firm believer in Menand’s first theory and its ability to separate the smart and hardworking individuals.
    I also agree that the University of Michigan provides more then just the opportunity to earn a good GPA. The University of Michigan is a prestigious University that provides students with opportunities once they graduate. With a good GPA, Michigan allows for an enormous alumni network and many possibilities for jobs and lifestyles.


  2. Although I agree with a lot of your points made, I can’t help but to bring up a different point of view.
    I agree that the theory of college should be a mix of Menand’s three theories. College does incorporate all three of his ideas and I like how you brought this idea into play.
    I also agree that here at The University of Michigan, we are being taught by some of the best professors. I also agree that in a short period of time, we are able to learn so much and gain so much knowledge.
    But, throughout my time here at Michigan, I can’t help but to think that at such a large university, are we getting all of the opportunities we possibly can? Or, are we just a student given a number, in a sea of professors trying to conduct research and further their personal resumes.
    I think a huge point that you didn’t touch on, is building relationships with professors. I think at small, liberal art schools, students are able to foster and build these relationships because they are more than just a number. But, at big, research universities, most professors are not interested in this, nor do they have time.
    I think building these potential relationships is another factor that should play into the success of a person post college.
    I think its something interesting to take into account when discussing this topic.


  3. Hi there,

    I greatly agree with what you said on “Menand’s theories all hold partial truth”. However I would like to further build on your point on “what you learn in school and the quality/difficulty of the work is what determines the value in a school’s name”. I disagree with that statement because I do not think the exams in for example Harvard or Yale would be more difficult than the ones in Michigan, nor would I think that every professor in Harvard is better than the ones in Michigan. However, what differentiates a “top-tier” school and an average school is its connection with the outside world. A “better” school would have greater connection with each industry. For example, a boss from a company recruited a Harvard student 3 years ago and found out that he is a very useful asset to the company. Then he would assume Harvard has better education and would tend to recruit another Harvard student into his company. The so-called “price” or “value” of the school is basically build upon the connections of students in my opinion.


  4. I definitely agree with you here. Even though I think Menand’s theories all hold partial truths and are legitimate theories, none of them fully encompass higher education as we see today. I think Menand bases his theories not on those who are directly involved with universities (ie, students and faculty) but on the needs of the societies surrounding them. Like you said, in reality a large part of a university’s quality lies within the ability of the students themselves and the efforts behind their aspirations.


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