As you are probably aware, I am a university student! (I only talk about it in, like, HALF OF MY POSTS). And I take classes, and one of those is a sociology course. And in that class today, we were talking about education. And here is where the trouble starts. (Prepare for some jumping around; this post has ended up being structured as a series of vignettes, somehow).
We were talking about university. And my prof was talking about how very important it is. About how 15% of undergrads drop out and this is obviously a TERRIBLE THING. How people in countries where tuition is free sometimes take many years to finish their degree, and this is a TERRIBLE THING (and, it is implied, self-indulgence on their part). And so on.
Here’s the thing. University education does not work for everyone. It doesn’t, okay? There is a huge amount of pressure to go to university. Better to excel, to graduate with honours, but, at the bare minimum, to make it through. But that just doesn’t work for everyone, and there’s a couple of reasons that that’s so. It’s been a while since I wrote a list, so let’s do that.
University is really expensive. Really really expensive. I have been lucky enough to be eligible for a student loan, but I still don’t have enough! Many people get scholarships their first year, and go for that reason. If those scholarships aren’t renewed, though, you might need to drop out! THIS IS NOT A PERSONAL FAILING.
University is also stressful. It’s a highly unrealistic environment and one which most people are not adequately prepared for by high school. Some manage to adapt well. Others don’t. THIS IS NOT A PERSONAL FAILING.
3) It Just Doesn’t Fit:
This is the one that affects me most, and therefore the one I’ll talk about at length. See, when she talked about how many students drop out, and talked about how it is IMPERATIVE we avoid falling into this trap ourselves (because oh yes, she went there), it hit me hard. Because, see, I’m not sure I am going to be able to finish university. I love learning. I love attending lectures and taking notes, and talking out ideas with really smart people. But I’m bad at homework. It is agonizing for me. A lot of the time I barely manage to finish, or don’t finish at all, even if I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.
Can you guess what a lot of the university experience is about? Homework. Getting assignments done. Things that are not the same as learning and that not all people can do effectively. Including myself.
If you can’t properly function in an environment, is it any wonder that you might drop out? THIS IS NOT A PERSONAL FAILING.
I’m worried about dropping out of school at some point. And part of that is because I like education. Which is a valid reason to feel worry about not being able to complete it. But part of that, part of it is because of the enormous social pressure to succeed in this environment. Part of it is the society telling me that if I can’t handle university, the problem is with me not wanting it hard enough, or not trying hard enough. The problem is me, not the system that isn’t set up to accommodate more than one (fairly specific) type of learning. And it’s really hard not to internalize those messages, even if you know about the problems with them. It’s hard not to buy into something you see everywhere.
That would have been a fairly natural place to end this post. But there’s one more thing I want to address, which is the disapproval our professor evinced when telling us how sometimes in countries like France or Germany, people can take like fifteen years to finish their post-secondary! It being free, you see, there is no incentive to FINISH AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE LEST THE DEBT CONSUME YOU. Which apparently is a bad thing?
But see, I don’t understand that perspective. To me, if people are taking that long to graduate (presumably meaning they are only taking a course or two each semester), I see it as, well…kind of a good thing. I see it as them knowing the pace at which they need to work to be able to function at their best, the pace that works for them. With our system as it stands, with the personal cost incurred to students, there’s an enormous disincentive to taking time. If you don’t finish your degree in three or four years, every extra year is going to add a solid ten thousand dollars or so onto your debt. That’s horrifying. And for students who can’t handle more than a couple of courses a year, devastating.
And there are many of reasons that could be! A student could maybe not handle the workload. Or they could need to have outside work at the same time. Or they could have children or other dependents. Or, y’know, they could just not want the additional stress more courses would incur. All of these are excellent reasons for taking school slowly. And, y’know, might actually lead to more people not dropping out, since that is apparently the Ultimate Goal or something.
Look, the bottom line is this. It is undeniable fact that 15% of undergrads drop out. Or at least I assume my prof would not actively stoop to lying about statistics, so we’ll take it as true for the moment. If this is the case, shouldn’t we be looking at the reasons for that? Don’t judge those who drop out–they have reasons to do so. Let’s focus on improving the university environment so that it works for all students. Lower fees so people can afford to take their time. Change structure so people who don’t fit into the current model can function. Accommodate. It’s the only way.
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