Is College Worthwhile? Was It Ever?

The Plastic Age, a 1924 novel by Percy Marks which became a bestseller, takes a close-up look inside a men’s college in the days of  prohibition, jazz, and bootleg whiskey. it finds “The college is made up of men who worship mediocrity; that is their ideal except in athletics.”

As they near the end of their college careers, the men reflect on what they’ve learned and find themselves wanting. One says, “Here I am sporting a Phi Bete key, an honor student if you please, and all that I really know as a result of my college ‘education’ is the fine points of football and how to play poker. I don’t really know one damn thing about anything.”

The men take their questions about the value of college to one of the college’s few good teachers. He says, in part:

The average college graduate is a pretty poor specimen, but all in all he is just about the best we have. Please remember that I am talking in averages. I know perfectly well that a great many brilliant men do not come to college and that a great many stupid men do come, but the colleges get a very fair percentage of the intelligent ones and a comparatively small percentage of the stupid ones.

Some day, perhaps…our administrative officers will be true educators; some day perhaps our faculties will be wise men really fitted to teach; some day perhaps our students will be really students, eager to learn, honest searchers after beauty and truth. That day will be the millennium.  I look for the undergraduates to lead us to it.

Has anything really changed in 90 years?

Will anything really change in the next 90?