Critical Response Essays
Two Years Are Better than Four is an essay by Liz Addison, published in the New York Times Magazine’s College Essay Contest. It follows the fictional, yet symbolic, character, Rick Perlstein. Through the character, Addison expresses her thoughts on the American Higher Education system. Consequently, she highlights the importance of community colleges in the provision of higher education. Addison discounts the 4-year courses provided by mainstream universities. Throughout her essay, Liz Addison claims that Community Colleges are better institutions of higher learning as compared to Universities. This paper tries to outline them as it provides reasoning, evidence and assumptions presumed, in coming up with the aforementioned arguments.
At the beginning of the essay, the writer expresses the difficulties experienced by high-school graduates in gaining admission to universities, nowadays. She states,” College as America used to understand it is coming to an end” through Rick Perlstein (Addison 3). To show contrast between the past and modern days, Addison brings another character to the scene. She states that Perlstein had a ‘beatnik’ friend alongside him. The term ‘beatnik’ makes reference to a person of the artistic Beat generation of the 1950s and 60s. During that period, college education, offered in universities, was highly regarded. To further her argument, she claims that admission to universities, nowadays, relies solely on their Curricula Vitae.
There is significant evidence supporting the views presented by Addison. The chances of getting into a reputable university are quite low. Furthermore, the chances are even slimmer to gain admission into Ivy League colleges. For instance, Harvard accepted only 5.9% of admissions made, while, Yale accepted 6.8% of applicants. Despite many near perfect SAT scores, 680 points for instance, students have been denied admission or waitlisted. There is an increased focus on non-academic aspects in applicants. For instance, the most competitive Universities look for musically skilled applicants, such as concert pianists.
To highlight the difficulties accompanying the cost of college education, Addison creates ‘The University of Privilege’. The character of Rick Perlstein depicts the lost opportunity of studying in such institutions. However, there are various assumptions held by the writer, in the story. For instance, only the cost of expensive schools is factored into her argument. This is depicted through her use of the ‘University of Privilege’. This alludes to the fact that only students from privileged backgrounds have the opportunity of joining the institution. Furthermore, colleges charge huge tuition fees on applicants. For instance, Dartmouth and Exeter charge around $35,000 in annual tuition costs. The Harvard Law School costs around $47600 in annual tuition alone. This locks out a considerable number of applicants from accessing education there.
As a result, she argues that the true aim of community colleges is to educate, and not to make profits, unlike degree-offering institutions. To drive this point, she describes the institution attended by Rick Perstein as the ‘University of Privilege.’ This is attributable to the high tuition costs. To some extent, the name also metaphorically refers to students who attend them. There are several factors leading to the exorbitant costs in universities, regardless of the program. Previously, prospective students selected schools depending on their location and word of mouth from friends. As a result, American Universities did not experience the large admission requests experienced today.
In 1983, the U.S News and World Report magazine started making reports on the rankings of academic institutions. In consequence, prospective students became more aware of their academic options. A surge in admissions was consequently recorded in other institutions. In consequence, institutions facing poor enrolment rates started massive infrastructure development programs. Research facilities and lecture halls were upgraded. Simultaneously, they hired new academic staff, to improve the ratio of faculty to students, a measure of quality in the magazine. School environments were also upgraded. For instance, schools modernized their institutions looks, and the overall landscaping. This was for the purposes of attaining respectable ratings from students.
College sports programs are expensive to run. For instance, to attract talent, Universities have to offer scholarships and various benefits to talented sportsmen. Universities also expanded their faculties to those considered ‘prestigious’ to prospective students. This would increase the institutions’ attractiveness. Finally, Universities hired marketing strategists and publicists. This would enable the universities to improve their image to the public, therefore, attaining greater enrollment rates. Government funding is barely adequate for universities to run their programs effectively. It must be noted that all the aforementioned costs run into billions of dollars. As a result, the institutions have since passed down the costs to students, through bloated tuition costs.
Addison has several reasons for bringing this argument forward. First, she wants to portray Community colleges as alternative sources of higher learning. She also wants to challenge Universities to bring their costs down. In this argument, the writer has made several assumptions regarding University education. First, she limits her scope to top-tier universities. As a result, she comes up with all universities as providers of overcharged education. Secondly, she overlooks distance-learning programs offered by some universities. For instance, such a program at Kaplan University costs around $15000 per academic year.
Addison’s argument could be viewed on the context of an individual, and the community. Looking at the higher education scene, we see that the education system is tailored to meet the needs of a few trailblazers. In this respect, the education is inclined towards the best individual, as per the set requirements. University education does not seem to provide the whole community with its educational needs. This is attributable to the various factors. The numerous college applications have played a role in driving university applications towards this state.
Mr. Perlstein is nostalgic towards his days in the University of Privilege. It is stated, “The college experience – a rite of passage as it was meant to be- must have come to an end. But he is wrong” (Addison 5). The writer plays down Mr. Perlstein’s overrated ideals of University education and the journey of self-discovery experienced there. To emphasize her opinion, she guesses that Mr. Perlstein has limited knowledge of what happens in Community colleges (Addison 7). Through this, she develops her arguments on self-discovery, through community colleges, as opposed to Universities.
To understand Addison’s argument, we must first come to terms with ‘self discovery.’ Self-discovery is describable as the process through which a person discovers his/her individuality, in relation to the environment. Self-discovery is an indispensable phase in one’s life, according to the writer. This is due to several reasons: First, it leads one to the right career for them. Self-discovery makes people seek out their inherent abilities. As a result, they are able to choose careers that will harness their unique abilities, leading to success in the future. Community college allows one to choose any field of study. There are no constraints on what can be studied and what cannot. To highlight this ease in accessing community colleges, she explains that community colleges are accessible with only one O-level qualification. In consequence, one is allowed to experiment with various fields, before settling on their desired field of specialty.
Secondly, self-discovery, in community colleges, enables a person to develop healthy relationships with others. It helps a person in selecting people who are best suited in helping them to settle weighty decisions in life, such as those concerning a career. According to the writer, the philosophy underlying community colleges is the opportunity for all to join, regardless of any socioeconomic factors (Addison 4). As a result, we see that community colleges promote interactions between people from diverse backgrounds. With reference to self-discovery, this is important. In consequence, one can interact easily with people of different social standings in the future. This is beneficial in one’s career development. Self-discovery enables future managers to develop people skills, early in life.
However, there are several gaps in the writer’s proposition of community colleges as centers of self-discovery. First, a unit or credit in community college is limited in scope. A student experimenting with various units may not get a complete outlook on a desired field. Secondly, community colleges are limited in their facilities. As a result, their courses often lack adequate resources. These resources are necessary for exposure of students to fundamentals of their respective fields. Therefore, it is correct to state that one pays for what he or she gets. Thirdly, community colleges are substantially limited, in the variety of courses offered. As a result, students there have a limited outlook on their career options. With respect to self-discovery, community colleges are relatively limited. Nearly all of them lack fraternities or sororities.
Addison argues that community colleges are of considerable importance to the current and future generations of American society. She has various reasons for bringing this argument forward. First, she outlines the coverage of community colleges in the United States. She states, “Just follow any one of the 1,655 road signs, and pop your head inside…” (Addison 3). This implies the easy availability of higher education in the country. This provides students, even in remote areas, the opportunity to access higher education. Secondly, it is vital to note the few constraints related to admission in community colleges. For instance, the cheap costs and relatively low academic requirements. This nature of community colleges allows high school graduates, of underprivileged backgrounds, the opportunity to access collegiate education.
Addison states that, community colleges “offer a network of affordable future, of accessible hope, and an option to dream” (Addison 5). This demonstrates the importance of community colleges in the provision of American education. However, there are several constraints associable with this argument. Community colleges offer associate degrees. In consequence, graduates are locked out of white-collar forms of employment. Therefore, they still have to proceed to Universities for four-year degrees. It is also crucial to note that not all credit programs in community colleges are transferable to Universities.
Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are education programs offered by some universities. They are focused on large-scale interactive sessions, through forums, and traditional electronic course material. Examples include edX, Coursera and Udacity. These courses are operated mainly by top-tier institutions such as Stanford University. edX is operated by MIT, Harvard, University of California at Berkeley and several other institutions. Such programs have gained much resistance from the academic community. For instance, edX was attacked by San Jose State University’s faculty of philosophy. Professors have claimed that such programs will leave them unemployed. They have since brought forth several arguments against MOOCs, for instance, they are of poor learning standards.
In my opinion, MOOCs have legitimate reason to exist. They are an excellent resource for learners who wish to expand their academic horizons. MOOCs have little or no cost. They are, therefore, an important tool in expanding higher education to less privileged quarters of the society. Despite the questioning of quality of education in such programs, I find them useful in general. They are esteemed as alternatives to the often-expensive bachelor’s degrees offered in universities. In the article, Addison’s argument that the university admissions process has drifted from an academic background, to a profit making operation, has been clearly outlined. Its loopholes have also been identified. Regardless of that, community colleges should be given more emphasis in the American higher education system.
Addison, Liz. “Two Years Are Better Than Four.” The New York Times Magazine College Essay Contest, The New York Times. 26 Sept. 2007. Web. 28 May 2013.