Privilege of the Highest Order
This post was written by Jake Whitfield
There is much to be said about the state of higher education in the United States. The cost, the supposed biases of faculty, and the usefulness of a college degree are all points of controversy in the American conception of higher education. These controversies are all representative of an often-overlooked aspect of higher education. In the debates about student loans, the usefulness of the liberal arts, and faculty political biases, the supreme privilege of a higher education is overlooked. There is much to debate in regard to the state of higher education in the United States, but amidst the debate there must be understanding that the American college student is one of the most privileged individuals in the history of mankind. The economic, political, and cultural foundation that higher education owes its existence to is extremely rare in human civilization. These rare set of circumstances that allow a student to be a student is a privilege and a bestows responsibility.
Economically, college students must be able to pay for their education and the economic system must be able to support educational institutions. A college student has the means to immediately fund their college costs or defer them. College debt is most certainly a burden, but it is often take for granted that students have unlimited access to loans that pay for their education. The ability to get a job upon completion of college is so certain, financial institutions don’t hesitate to disperse loans to students. Furthermore, the college student provides little to no economic productivity. Their time is spent studying, researching, and reading. Despite their focus on these, they still need food, and housing, and transportation. The work of others meets these needs. This is how society supports individual students. Furthermore, the institutions of higher education are dependent on these needs as well. They need physical buildings, natural resources, and mass-produced technology. All these needs are met by society, and typically workers without a college education. The American economy is vital for the success of students, and its uniqueness is what allows for higher education.
Politically, the United States has the freedom and security that allow students to be students. The foundation of being a student is the exploration of learning. Learning requires intellectual freedom, a right bestowed to all Americans. This right is rare in the human experience. The possession of this right is a responsibility to those that have made it possible. American society is also relatively peaceful. Both domestic and foreign threats to the student are minimal. That is not true for most humans in world history. Foreign invasion or personal attacks do not threaten most college students. The lack of threats is due to historical and present military sacrifice and a judicial system that, although not free from injustice, has kept American society peaceful.
Finally, American college students benefit from a culture that values their education. A college degree is valued and those that receive it are respected and rewarded. The stigma of the “uneducated” in the United States is avoided by those with a college education. Despite the stigma, the work of the “uneducated” is vital to the health and survival of the college and its students. Society rewards the college student for their education, while belittling the backbone that has built the society that allows for it.
This privilege is paired with a responsibility. Those that graduate with a college degree owe the society that made it possible. Jobs for those with college educations are generally higher paying and less physically strenuous. They should use the job that the college degree has permitted them to get to give back. This responsibility which is bestowed on the American student extends to their very purpose in studying. If the goal of a college education is to get a job, and the highest paying job, the student is using this privilege to benefit themselves more than anyone else. Understanding that a student is only able to be a student because of societal support, the student’s goal in education should be to find the best way that they can pay society back.