Better writers than I have articulated the benefits of attending college and earning a degree. In previous posts, I have attempted to point out the individual and societal benefits. I have mentioned some of the mechanisms that seems most relevant to attaining these benefits. But to me there still seems to be a lack an overall compelling argument for the college experience. There is not an overarching theme that clearly delineates the college experience from other potentially transformational experiences. In this post, I would like to suggest that theme should be about how the college experience changes the trajectory of the individual’s future.
Of course, the immediate thought might be that the college graduate’s future earnings should and likely will be higher. However, a change in trajectory goes beyond potential income. The process of attending college, exposure to and mingling with diverse thoughts and experiences, students have struggles and success, and the plethora of other events that make up college not only transforms but also raises the consciousness of the individual. Aspirations and dreams change, tolerance of risk and differences increases, and even the skills at self-learning with critical evaluation are honed and enhanced. The college experience changes the individual’s awareness of the world and their unique journey through that world.
To many of a college graduate, the phrases above might well seem like I am stating the obvious. However, even that familiarity with the statements above provides evidence and testament to the change in trajectory. Life has moved beyond occurrence to direction and malleability. No longer does the college graduate react and adapt to life’s circumstances. Rather there are aspirations and intentionality to their path through life. This purposeful direction is the change in trajectory.
The change did not occur quickly. Rather it is the fulfillment of the four-year journey through college. It happened through the synergy of the college living experience in conjunction with the academic studies. Interestingly, the process and change is subtle and almost indiscernible to student. However, ask any professor or college educator and they can expound on the huge differences between first year and fourth year students. This change is not simply a growth in maturity. Rather, it is as though a different and substantially transformed individual has emerged.
Through each of these posts, I have attempted to avoid direct commentary about non-traditional collegiate paths. I will however note that the synergy of college life with academics seems paramount to the change in trajectory. The student that leaves the home environment and is in a physically and psychically diverse place in both thoughts and people will inevitably grow. This is not easily accomplished with either online or community college experiences.
Occasionally in the literature, we read or hear the phrase downward spiral. The term refers to a person’s life moving from on tragic event to an even more tragic event. It seems as if the person is on an inevitable degradation of their life. Each event and occurrence seems to reinforce problems and actually contribute to the next level of challenge. Rarely, do we hear or read of an opposite effect.
I have been writing about this opposite effect. The college experience that I mention is an upgrading experience. The change in trajectory that I mention is the upward spiral of the college graduate’s life experience. The college graduate will continue to enjoy events and experiences that reinforce and form the foundation of new and uplifting future experiences. The foundation of this upward spiral is the college degree that leads to the inevitable change in trajectory. That seems to be the overarching benefit of college.