Beware the Dark Side of Higher Education

darth vaderFor generations, Americans have fondly and firmly believed that higher education is an unqualified, unquestionable force for good. Colleges had built up a huge reservoir of trust over the years, so of course every child should go; it’s a complete no-brainer! What could possibly go wrong?

Based on the historical payoff for graduates in the workforce and nostalgia for our own college experiences, most families willingly accept the cultural given that they should make enormous financial sacrifices so that their child’s college dreams will come true and they will have a bright future.

Will they?

It depends. It depends on how these families approach the new college reality and how the Ivory Tower, in turn, treats them. It also depends on how they navigate the more sinister forces that increasingly cast a dim shadow over the once-hallowed halls. Things are vastly different in academia, these days. It’s not like it was when today’s parents attended; that’s for sure.

If your student is in high school and you are eagerly and optimistically gearing up to turn over your two most precious assets—your child and your money—to the College Machine, please be advised that there are some very real dangers ahead. Forewarned is forearmed, so here are some of the more Stygian aspects of the modern Academy to prepare to navigate:

DRUG USE. Studies consistently show that young people who attend college full-time are more likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t. Twice as likely, in fact. Gone are the days of assuming that your child would be mingling only with the “better elements” of society in their pricey dorms, discussing the finer points of Heidegger. In too many cases, higher learning is giving way to lower learning.

One of the cruelest realities of modern college life is the number of families who sent a clear-eyed, eager freshman off to college this fall and welcomed a cloudy-minded, budding alcoholic or fledgling addict back home for the holidays. Only $25,000 a semester for that mind-opening and mind-altering experience! The next major financial decision will be: write the next check for more tuition or for rehab, instead?

RISKY SEX. Many colleges today don’t merely tolerate promiscuity and wide sexual experimentation during college; they promote and teach it. Worse, colleges themselves are volubly proclaiming that there is a rampant “rape culture” and “rape epidemic” on campus. According to widely disseminated statistics, 1 in 5 female college undergraduates can expect to be sexually assaulted by the time she graduates. If this is actually true (which is debatable), then why would responsible parents ever send their daughters there?

POLITICAL BIAS. Colleges have been bastions of leftism since the middle of the 20th century, but we are now reaching near-total groupthink in terms of ideology, with some top colleges topping 99% of faculty supporting one political party. This astonishing and, frankly, laughable level of academic incest is an educational disaster. That’s not an education; that’s an indoctrination. (Shall we call it Jedi mind tricks, or is that pushing a metaphor too far?)

Suffice it to say that if your family is conservative, on most college campuses you can expect your child to encounter constant challenges rising to prejudice, hostility, insults, and even lowered grades for daring to express views contrary to the overwhelming majority—both in and out of the classroom. In return, he or she is likely to learn to remain silent, or, worse, yield his own freedom of thought to the dark forces of intimidation.

If your family is liberal, it will be even worse. Your child will not be challenged or exposed to new ideas at all in such a narrow, closed environment. He won’t be required to think or defend his positions. He will merely have to parrot a very narrow range of “accepted” predigested opinions to be overly rewarded for toeing the line. He will learn to assume that his preexisting views are correct without subjecting them to rigorous cross-examination and may yield to the temptation to join the bullying hoards harassing the free thinkers. What a waste of time, talent and money.

DEBT. With rising costs and diminishing returns, fewer graduates are seeing a positive return on their investment in higher education. Today’s more astute high school students must view their college loans as an extremely somber and potentially-life-altering decision casting a long shadow over the coming decades. The rest are going to find out the hard way, years down the road, when the bills come due.

The staggering cost alone makes attending college a much less lighthearted endeavor than it once was. The fictional Dean Wormer once advised that, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Today, he might opine that, “Fat, drunk, stupid and up-to-your-eyeballs in debt is no way to go through life.” Tragically, in extreme cases, some hopeless young graduates are so distraught by their overwhelming college loan obligations that they even contemplate suicide, seeing no path to ever being free and clear. College debt is a very serious matter.

USELESS COURSES. College used to be a selective endeavor reserved for the academically capable and ambitious, and the selection of majors was deliberately limited to those deemed worthwhile and rigorous. Now, there is an expanding number of enrollees and an exploding array of college majors, many of dubious worth. Not all college credits are created equal, yet, incredibly, on college campuses, they all cost the same amount. (I personally believe that some credits should cost less than others, but I digress.)

Today, over 65% of high school graduates go on to college. You don’t need to pass Statistics 200 to know that not all of them are above average. To satisfy less-academically-inclined students, colleges now offer many courses that seem to be focused more on examining students’ own personal opinions and self-absorption than mastering a challenging body of empirical knowledge. Many of these programs do not serve the time-honored goal of seeking disinterested “truth” or engage in impartial academic inquiry; instead, they practice advocacy of certain preexisting agendas. We’ve all seen this playing out in heavily orchestrated, and very distracting campus protests in recent days. Whatever your opinion of the protests, themselves, it’s safe to say there wasn’t a lot of studying getting done.

You can’t afford to approach higher education naively in the current highly politicized and cost-inflated environment. Today, you must arm yourself with facts, insights, strategy, caution, and a firm grip on both your wallet and your common sense as your child fills approaches this expected milestone. Don’t let your dated recollections of your own college years blind you to the altered circumstances your child will be facing.

Yes, there are still good programs and good professors to be found, but college is definitely not a simple turnkey purchase, anymore. You can’t just pay the bill and walk away, assuming things are going to be all right. You’re going to have to stay alert and remain vigilant to happening on your child’s campus to steer clear of potential danger.

Caveat Emptor, Friend, and May the Force Be with You. You’re going to need it.


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