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Why Go to College Events

It would be foolish to deny that education is undergoing a major evolution worldwide. The emergence of MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, has made it possible for anyone with an internet connection to access college level material (often for free). Naturally, as is the case with most socio-technological advances, this particular phenomenon comes along with an obvious array of new possibilities. No longer does a student need to travel to a college campus, and spend four years—and often six figures—in order to study a particular discipline. He or she can simply access the material online, often free of charge, and master it at his or her own pace. The emergence of this new technology, however, raises a fairly obvious question. Is university education becoming obsolete?

One classic justification for going to college—which I assume is quite prevalent at Yeshiva University—is the citing of employment opportunities that such an experience will likely result in. Many higher-paying jobs, for example, require a college degree in order to indicate a baseline level of competence.[1] Thus, the financial loss incurred by tuition fees is offset by the potential for future profits, and can easily be viewed as a worthwhile and necessary investment. It’s worth noting, however, that sociological patterns are far from static in the technological age. Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker, and Steve Jobs have proven that a creative idea, and prodigious coding or entrepreneurship abilities, can be more lucrative—albeit riskier—than pursuing a standard “professional” career. Furthermore, as the MOOCs phenomenon becomes more widespread, internet degrees might begin to gain the same value as more traditional degrees. After all, if a job candidate can pass a test, and display the necessary proficiency, why should it matter how he or she came upon such knowledge or abilities?

The answer to such a question, I believe, is predicated on whether a traditional college education offers any advantages that an online education might not be able to match. And while enumerating such advantages may be tough for the average person, it has been a relatively simple task for those most intimately connected to the collegiate experience. One such person, literature Professor Andrew Delbanco of Columbia University, was the guest lecturer at the Schottenstein program’s Wednesday luncheon series on January 30, 2012. At the luncheon, he mentioned how he has been teaching the same course—which features the same novels— for years, yet his experience varies with each new semester; how despite the fact that he is the expert, he consistently manages to gain new and profound insights from his students. The potential for knowledge, he might argue, increases exponentially when interpersonal exchanges are an ingredient in the educational recipe. These interpersonal exchanges, which appear to lie at the core of education, are absent in online education ventures, preventing them from truly competing with a traditional college education.

Some might argue, however, that a humanities course is different from a traditional math or science course, in that it is subjective and open to endless dialectic. A course like calculus, on the other hand, would appear to be objective, with class discussions deemed less crucial to the educational experience. Nonetheless, I believe that the advantages of group education apply in the “objective” fields as well, manifesting in the form of group studying. Group studying is, simply put, a more effective means of studying than any attempted individual endeavor. There have been numerous studies that have determined this to be the case.[2] And naturally, it is a common practice on university campuses, where students can easily gather in order to study and learn together. Such experiences cannot, however, be easily matched in cyberspace.

The discussion of interpersonal learning experiences related to coursework, however, only offers a portion of what makes a college education so critical in preparing students for entry into the world at large. Perhaps the most crucial aspects of a college education are the experiences that lie outside the purview of classroom related experiences; Sedarim, events, clubs, newspapers, journals, student governments, service-learning missions, and general community-building, are all experiences that teach us how to work with others, how to understand others, how to respect others, and ultimately, how to understand and respect ourselves. In the truest sense, college is a time that enables us to discover our place in the world, a time when we can build up the moral and emotional tools necessary for real success, regardless of the path we might take.

Without programs like Toastmasters and Active Minds, we might feel alone with our individual quirks and anxieties. Without programs like the Medical Ethics Society and the Business Ethics Club, it would be all too easy to lose a grip on our values in the chaos of the outside world. Without weeknight Shiurim and special lectures, we could become too narrowly focused on the minutia of our regular Torah and secular studies, focusing on the tree, while missing out on the forest. And without programs like the CJF, Music Vs., and College Edge, we might make the mistake of focusing too heavily inwards, while neglecting those around us who are in need.

And thus, there is one thing that seems abundantly clear to me: without supplementary events, the college education is simply incomplete.