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.