Is College Necessary to be an Informed Citizen in the United States?

Are individuals who have attended college in a better position to serve their role as informed individuals of a democratic society than those who didn’t attend university? Menand in Live and Learn argues that this is definitely the case in his second theory of education.  He states that this theory behind education is that college “is a way of producing like-minded grownups” and socializes students so that a particular method of thinking is produced. Let’s explore this question on our own, though, based on the United States’s higher education system that exists today.

Menand suggests that college is supposed to instill a common method of thinking in individuals. Is college really this clear cut?

The answer to this question first relies on the extent to which the individual engages with the university. A commuter student, whose only interaction with the university is shuttling to and from class, will not be greatly impacted by their university experience beyond acquiring new competences from class.

Although competences can serve a large purpose, with competences comes modes of thinking, which may prove beneficial when analyzing new problems society faces and choosing to align themselves with a certain solution. To this end, even without a vast shift in paradigm or experiences that thrust the individual out of their comfort zone, a person can still prove more functional to a society with more education than without.

Another layer of value that can come from higher education and serve the greater society is the liberal arts education. Maintaining the example of a commuter student, a student undergoing a liberal arts education is taking courses that actively challenge their perceptions and demand rigorous analysis of problems that the student is not used to facing. In this situation even though the student only engages with classes, assuming adequate effort, the individual’s perspective should be vastly sharpened, capable of approaching problems from more than one angle.

One step deeper brings forth the idea of a student living on campus, taking an essentially equivalent course load as the liberal arts commuter student above, but having more time to interact with their peers. While a sharpened perspective already is valuable for ameliorating a democratic society, the value an on-campus student has over a commuter student is a body of students with the time to organize and create pressure. Both by refining individual opinions through dialogue and banding together to press ideas into the public space, on-campus students can easily participate in, not just prepare for, a democratic society.

Students at Princeton sit and dialogue about issues with the institution and bureaucracy of their university. This is something they chose to do in their free time as on-campus students in 2010.

As long as a student chooses to engage with a university, the more seriously they involve themselves with their surroundings, the more they are able provide value to a democratic society utilizing the liberal arts education. But is an on-campus student who doesn’t engage with their university able to provide a similar amount of value to a democratic society?

Thirty years ago, the answer to that question was usually in the negative, but thanks to the information revolution – namely, the Internet – it’s very plausible. Powerful communities band together on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, on blogging websites such as Tumblr, and messaging boards like Reddit. The community and power of a liberal arts education at a university can be acquired and channeled through the internet. This allows any individual who chooses to engage and place serious effort in becoming diverse and analytical the ability to provide value to a democratic society, regardless of circumstance.

While a liberal arts college degree can prove valuable to an individual seeking to provide value to a democratic society, it is by no means necessary now that alternative and non-cost-prohibitive means of engaging with other individuals exists. Now with the invention of the Internet, anyone who actively chooses to become an informed democratic citizen can succeed in ameliorating society as a whole. The notion that college is necessary to be a learned or informed person is finally outdated. Hopefully this will reduce rampant class differences in education completed in the United States.

By reading this blog post, one gains a new perspective on the utility of a college education via the Internet. Even you have gotten one step closer to becoming a productive citizen. Congratulations!

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4 thoughts on “Is College Necessary to be an Informed Citizen in the United States?

  1. Despite being a commuter, I have learned the most from the professors and mentors I have done research with at university. Perhaps for a liberal art education, you do not need to go to college but for more, shall we say technical professions? such as physician, engineer, having a degree is often necessary.

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  2. I both agree and disagree with this post. I think a person truly learns the most by interacting with people of varying backgrounds and experiences, but I also think it is essential for a person to learn the why of things. Someone can have a very interesting debate with another on the topic of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, for example. They may have very informed opinions, developed from watching the news or discussing the issue with peers, but this person will never fully grasp the topic because the long and complicated history of religion, people, and war in the Middle East wasn’t a part of his technical college curriculum. There needs to be balance in the education system.

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  3. I agree with this post in that a liberal arts degree can provide a student with a vast outlook on life and numerous opportunities. However, is it truly necessary for a student to have to take classes that he/she is not interested in? A liberal arts degree encompasses all different types of classes and thus students won’t be interested in every single type of them. A college degree is definitely necessary to succeed in this sort of environment and society, but I am honestly asking whether or not it is truly necessary to have a liberal arts degree to succeed in life. What are the advantages and disadvantages of such?

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  4. I think you made some very interesting points in your post. I agree with you that due to the information age, it is much easier for people to be informed and connected. I also agree with you that college is not necessary for people to provide value to a democratic society. Although college is not necessary, I don’t think this will reduce class differences in education. Today, more and more people are attending undergrad, therefore in order to be more competitive in today’s society- grad school is the leg up and the competition is becoming even tougher.

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