Reasons Why People Attend College

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College is a prospect that many people begin thinking about from a young age. Although not to all, the privilege to attend one has been afforded to nearly 20 million students, who are enrolled in a college or university for the fall 2019 semester (National Center for Education Statistics). These students include men and women of all different races, social and economic classes, and ages. What is it that college offers that is so appealing to such a wide range of people? College offers people a chance to improve their economic means, become better educated, and appreciate their lives from new horizons.

One of the most probable reasons people attend college at any stage of their lives is for economic purposes. According to Andrew Delbanco, a professor at Columbia University, degree holders typically secure more job opportunities than people who may only have a high school diploma (Delbanco 464). Evidence shows that this is in fact true as, “…over the past four decades, those with a bachelor’s degree have tended to earn 56 per cent more than high school graduates while those with an associate’s degree have tended to earn 21 per cent more than high school graduates” (Abel and Deitz 3). More job opportunities create circumstances that can lead to more money, which is favourable in a capitalist society. Furthermore, in a culture where the unspoken, but the widely accepted notion is that “To be poor in America is to be a failure”, people hold a general desire to live comfortably (Edmundson 407). This desire cannot be attained with the minimum wage jobs that are usually worked by people who do not have degrees and often do not have the means to attempt to earn one. This coupled with people who want more than comfortability for themselves and prefer to live less moderate lifestyles make college a necessity. Abundant economic means signify status. As suggested by Scott Samuelson, in his essay, “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers”, the upper class take up dignified professions in society, which clearly separates them from the middle class (Samuelson 473). Cultures that maintain economic disparities often use them to create social classifications. All in all, regardless of which end of the spectrum one may fall, none of it can be achieved without a degree.

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Another common purpose of college is, of course, to get an education. Postsecondary education can yield many benefits. For example, it can increase people’s awareness and as a result, make them better citizens. In a culture where people are regularly exposed to misleading commercials, propaganda, and biased half-truths from the media, it is important that they are educated on how to filter the truth out of misrepresentations (Delbanco 465). A society that is able to do this cannot be so easily manipulated by the media or made to rely on it for information. In addition, going to college can offer people an opportunity to study new concepts that they can relate to and may not have learned otherwise. This can change people’s entire perspectives on life. This was Scott Samuelson’s experience teaching at Kirkwood Community College, where he says he had multiple students express how what they learned about philosophy affected them on a personal level (Samuelson 474). For instance, one woman became emotional during a lesson on Stoics as it made her think of a hardship her sister was enduring; another student discovered an affinity for formal logic and enrolled on law school as a result (Samuelson 474). While it is true that many people go to college for the purpose of gaining knowledge, others go to expand horizons.

In other words, people go to college to get more out of life. For some, attending college is their first time being exposed to diversity culturally, politically, ideologically; etc. For most, however, it is also the first time they will get the opportunity to study complex, academic texts and learn to dissect and understand them. Andrew Delbanco expressed this as he recounted a conversation he had with an alumnus from Columbia. In his essay, “3 Reasons College Still Matters”, Delbanco writes:

[…] college had opened his senses as well as his mind to experiences that would otherwise be foreclosed on him. Not only had it enriched his capacity to read demanding works of literature and to grasp fundamental political ideas, but it had also heightened and deepened his alertness to colour and form, melody and harmony. And now, in the late years of his life, he was grateful. Such an education is a hedge against utilitarian values. (Delbanco 465)

Overall, it increased his appreciation for life. He became a more knowledgeable person with a newly widened outlook and as a result, the reality of all there is in the world to be inspired by was unveiled to him. For this particular man and for countless students, the greatest takeaway from his time at college was how it influenced the rest of his life outside of school. Additionally, college is a breeding place for new ideas that can teach students things they never knew about themselves. In fact, Mark Edmundson, a professor at the University of Virginia summarizes his own experience with this in his essay, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?” (Edmundson 405). He explains how reading authors, Sigmund Freud and Ralph Waldo Emerson helped him emerge into himself by translating his own “thoughts and feelings” into words in a way he had never been able to before (Edmundson 412). When people are able to learn more about themselves in this way, it contributes to personal development and can influence the way they live.

To summarize, college is a place where people go to better themselves. Whether it is for the purpose of improving financial means, one’s own education, or to change the way they experience their lives, these purposes are what bridge the millions of students that colleges attract every year. In this way, they are not all that different from each other. 

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