College Daze

Forbes, September 2008.


College is not all it’s cracked up to be. Dumbed-down courses, flaky majors and grade inflation have conspired to make the letters B.A. close to meaningless. But another problem with today’s colleges is more insidious: They are no longer a good place for young people to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Today’s colleges are structured to prolong adolescence, not to midwife maturity.

Once upon a time college was a halfway house for practicing how to be a grown-up. Students couldn’t count on the dean of students to make allowances for adolescent misbehavior. If they wanted to avoid getting kicked out, they had to weigh the potential consequences of their actions, just as in adult life. The student-teacher relationship was more distant and less nurturing than in high school, and more like the employee-supervisor relationship awaiting them after graduation. Students had to accept that they no longer got hugs for trying hard. If they didn’t get the job done, they were flunked with as little ceremony as they would be fired by an employer.

This apprenticeship in adulthood has been gutted.