College life has changed and will continue to in years to come

Rishi Chauhan

College life is a defining moment in our lifetimes. As an encapsulation of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, college life is defined by certain standards. However, I recently wondered what college life would be like in the future. Villanova itself is going through a major aesthetic transition, and after 20 years, will look completely different. But what about the fundamentals of college life—how are they going to change? Here I will examine the competitive nature and financial struggles of colleges as they change in the future.

One of the more concerning components of college life right now is the competitive requirements placed on students. This process will start earlier in life. High school was a blend of constant extracurricular activities, sports and AP classes to get into college. College is essentially more of the same. Contrary to the purpose of education, colleges actually tend to penalize you for taking challenging classes, if they come at a cost to your GPA. Therefore, rather than choosing classes that significantly contribute to an education, the average college student’s curriculum consists of classes that provide the easiest grades. When scheduling classes, most students just ask two questions: “How’s the professor?” and “Is it easy?” Any other question about the meaningfulness of a class or its enjoyment comes secondary to considerations of GPA. Professors are also put under significant pressure to grade easily further diluting the education standard. The CAT reports at the end of the semester seem to encourage this dilution. As students, we tend to give better grades to the professors that are easy. Most students won’t give ones to a professor on the CATs who give them an “A”, but will probably do so if the professor gives them a “D”. Since students use CAT reports to choose classes, professors are under pressure to grade easily if they want their classes to fill up.

Unfortunately, this component of college life seems to only be getting worse. Students face tremendous pressure and scrutiny to succeed. If you want to get a job on Wall Street, your GPA has to be above a certain threshold. If you want to get into medical school, you have to have a certain amount of extracurricular and service activities. Furthermore, people are being raised into this competitive lifestyle from an earlier age. Most of my childhood consisted of my entire neighborhood playing together. Nowadays, the sighting of a child is fleeting—usually they are just seen getting into the car to take music lessons, special sports camps or extra tutoring. Parents are building their childrens’ resumes as early as elementary school.

Another interesting component of college life is the financial toll it takes on students. With college costs being so high, students have significant burdens to find a job that will adequately support their payments for college loans. At the current state, most colleges are bloated institutions that spend exorbitant amounts of money to enhance student life. Led by colleges such as Harvard, that has an endowment of over $30 billion, most schools struggle to provide resources that are out of their financial capabilities. Although the current financial burden tends to fall more on lower- tier institutions (three schools recently announced their insolvency), even schools such as Villanova are not immune to financial issues. A July 2013 article by Forbes gave Villanova a financial health grade of “B” with a financial GPA of 3.058 out of 4.5. Using considerations such as the overall balance sheet, operational soundness and institutional expenses per student, the score indicates that Villanova is in decent financial shape but could be significantly better. To stay competitive, schools pass on the costs to students. Taking all costs into account, most schools charge a quarter million dollars over four years, and some students are forced to take loans to pay these exorbitant costs.

Within 20 years, some predictions have almost 50 percent of colleges closing due to the unsustainable financial model. The growth of costs both for schools and students will make it impossible for schools with low financial health to survive. According to the Wall Street Journal, 284,000 college graduates hold minimum wage jobs. These jobs cannot support the burden of the huge debt undertaken by the students. On the other hand, digital schooling seems to provide an alternative to the expensive college education. Sites like Coursera and FedX offer the same courses that schools charge hundreds of dollars for free. This is going to put more stress on the financial stability of schools. One may argue that social capital of colleges is why colleges can and should charge so much for their classes. After all, many famous partnerships began in college. But in the digital age, these partnerships can easily be forged through social media. Ultimately, either the financial systems involved in education must change, or colleges must offer proper value for their education.

Although the competitive nature involved in college or the financial difficulties associated with going to college may be concerning, ultimately there will be an impetus for change. Those who grew up in the hypercompetitive college atmosphere will hopefully reject this system to encourage a laid-back, less competitive system. Excessive financial burdens should encourage reform. Ultimately though, college life will probably have to get worse before it can get better.