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Ingber ’15: The true value of a Brown education

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Opinions Columnist

There is no denying that tuitions of elite private institutions such as Brown have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels over the past few years. College is expensive, undoubtedly, and many students and their families struggle to afford tuition. But we should not let that cost taint our view of the true value of a high-level college education. Armani Madison ’16 spent a substantial amount of time talking about the precarious job market and the uncertainty that accompanies a college degree but did not explain the true value of a Brown education (“What is the value of higher education?” March 12). I cannot, in one short article, espouse exactly why a Brown education is so valuable, but I will put forth a few ideas while explaining why the aforementioned article uses an incorrect framework to judge higher education.

First and foremost, the article refers to college tuition as an investment. This is fundamentally the wrong way to look at the situation: An investment implies that the money is being spent simply as a means to an end. Surely most Brown students do not see their time on College Hill as just a conduit to make money in their careers. While this might be a legitimate goal of many students, the vibrant student life and sense of community that exists at Brown are testaments to students’ passion for Brown as an institution.

I was further disappointed to see Madison create an erroneous dichotomy between ingenuity and professionalism when he asked, “Will we continue to pursue innovation and originality, or will we give it up for professionalism?” Quite frankly, it is frustrating to see entering the professional world as a compromise of one’s creativity. Technological breakthroughs and entrepreneurial ventures embody the very innovation Madison suggests is absent in the professional world.

And what does “professionalism” even mean? My sister is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in public health, something classified as a professional degree, but certainly will pursue careers in public service and the common good. Ideally, she will conduct groundbreaking research on infectious diseases. It would be fallacious to argue that professionalism and thinking outside the box are mutually exclusive.

Perhaps Madison should have substituted the word “corporatism” for “professionalism.” Then it would be clear that this is little more than a veiled attempt to criticize those who choose to pursue corporate jobs. But can you blame them? Madison’s article shed light on the unstable job market, but the corporate sectors seem to be consistently hiring. College costs a ton, and it is natural to pursue a career path that will allow you to repay student loans and remain financially stable.

Madison proceeds to present a banal, misplaced critique of high-paying jobs by saying, “My interpretation of the ‘spirit of Brown’ is that our goals should not be to necessarily accumulate wealth, but rather for us to achieve positive change in the world due to our efforts.” For some reason, aspiring to be successful and make money becomes incompatible with effecting positive change. In fact, that change Madison speaks of needs the financial backing from wealthy individuals. The super rich undoubtedly have a societal imperative to give back, and there have been many instances of society benefiting from this philanthropy — including me, from the library I sit in as I write this. The idealism represented here is admirable, but we cannot continue to consider effecting change and accumulating wealth as diametrically opposed to each other.

Unfortunately, the article rests on a premise that higher education is supposed to train you for life after college. Quoting the piece by Suli Breaks, Madison discussed how many successful people learned the necessary skills for their profession without attending college. This conception of higher education runs contrary to the very essence of a Brown education. The Brown education, the Open Curriculum and even Brown’s grading policy reflect a desire not to teach for the job market but rather to impart critical thinking skills that students can apply to any field, discipline or craft. Surely a Brown degree represents skills acquired and experiences had — not just training for the job market.

There is a reason I used the word “value” instead of “worth” in the title of this column. The latter implies some sort of monetary equivalent or quantitative measurement, while the former allows room for intrinsic importance irrespective of external considerations. I am cognizant of the fact that college tuition is incredibly expensive, but to measure the worth of an education solely based on whether or not it secures you a job after you graduate runs antithetical to the reason most of us attend Brown.

 

 

Zach Ingber ’15 is thankful he has more time to decide between the Peace Corps and Goldman Sachs. In the meantime, you can reach him at Zachary_ingber@brown.edu.

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9 Comments

  1. Brown may hold itself above the standard definition of higher education, but it is the world, not Brown, that will ultimately judge you. It’s risky to invoke platitudes when discussing an objective reality.

  2. What is the value of “critical thinking?” This term is all too often espoused as the benefits of a higher degree, but what am I learning in a 70-person class that teaches me to think critically? Or even in a small seminar? What about reading a book and talking it over with my parents?

    And once I get that critical thinking, what am I going to do with it? Many job interviews measure job-specific skills or problem-solving tasks that are contingent on the background needed for a job. Once you have the job, are you really using critical thinking you learned in college, or critical thinking skills you had all along? Or something you picked up at your job?

    It’s incredibly difficult to quantify.

    I’m not saying that reading a book can replace a humanities education because it’s important to have some one challenge your ideas, but I think we need to talk about what this “critical thinking” is and why it’s so important.

  3. Beautifully written piece. I’m glad to find that another student shares my view on what is truly the most valuable piece of a Brown education.

    To those who question the value of critical thinking and it’s application to the professional world, maybe you should speak to the likes of Mark Zuckerburg, or Bill Gates. While not all of us can reach such levels as those two, they would surely expound that it is those who can “think critically” who they would rather hire and work with.

  4. unfortunately if you cannot think critically upon entering brown, life has failed you and there is little you can do to save yourself. the true value of a brown education is that it is a brand name school that allows people to assume all sorts of things about you that may or may not be accurate.

  5. Albert Anderson says:

    Zach, I’ glad your family can afford to pay over $200,000 over four years so that you may enjoy the “vibrant student life and sense of community” here at Brown. As for myself, and many of my fellow students, the primary concern is getting a job- whether it is convenient to admit that or not. That, I can assure you.

    • Ra Ra brunonia says:

      How dare you judge the writer? Perhaps he is on full financial aid. Ad hominem attacks based on a person’s socioeconomic status only make your argument appear shallow. Furthermore, if you go to Brown simply to get a job, you’re missing out on a lot and I feel bad for you.

  6. Critical thinking is important, but I think Brown place students in an overly idealistic intellectual microcosm. Critical thinking surely doesn’t require 4 years at $43K a pop.

    • I also didn’t like how the writer rejected the notion that college is an investment. Sure, college isn’t just a factory producers workers for the job market – but if not, what exactly are we investing in? What are actually getting out?

      • However, to be upfront, Brown is pretty clear about what it’s all about. I definitely agree with the writers statement here: ” The Brown education, the Open Curriculum and even Brown’s grading policy reflect a desire not to teach for the job market but rather to impart critical thinking skills that students can apply to any field, discipline or craft.”

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