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Examining the value of college

By The Mercury

It’s pretty easy to dismiss Billy Willson as lacking in perspective, maturity and humility. But let’s give him some credit: his point is worth thinking seriously about.

Who’s Billy Willson? Well, he’s a young man from Olathe who dropped out after a semester at K-State, saying it wasn’t worth his time. He claims he got a 4.0 in that semester, but says that he was learning nothing of value, and that college is a scam.

He posted a picture of himself, flipping off the K-State sign at the corner of Bluemont and North Manhattan avenues, and writing a sort of manifesto that started with “F—- college.”

That manifesto, shot through with hubris and grammatical errors, went viral. So far, it’s garnered 29,000 likes and 8,000 comments on Facebook, assuming you can believe anything at all on Facebook.

The reason is not only that it’s provocative and sensational, but because it really does raise serious points: Is college really worth it? Is it worth spending into six figures to get a degree?

It goes without saying that Manhattan is a college town. The main product we have to sell, in fact, is a college education. If it weren’t for that product, Manhattan would be a small burg at the junction of a couple of small rivers in northeast Kansas, with some nice grassland nearby. Nothing wrong with that, but the prosperity and vitality of our community is directly tied to the perceived value of a college education. So this is serious business.

Here’s the thing: For some people, Billy Willson is exactly right. If your skill and your professional future is really about turning a wrench, you probably won’t get a direct financial benefit by going to a four-year university. For that matter, if you are an entrepreneurial sort, you might hit it big if you drop out after a semester. And so expensive textbooks and lame instructors might be not only infuriating, but completely intolerable.

We’re not going to use this space to argue anybody into the value of a college education. We believe strongly in it, because it is really about broadening one’s mind. It teaches a person how to think – not just how to perform a task. Don’t believe us? Just read Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech at Stanford – although he himself was a dropout, he speaks from experience about the value of (to use one example) a class he took on calligraphy, which you would think was the most impractical thing imaginable. But it helped him think in a certain way that ended up being very important to him, and probably changed the world.

We would simply like to encourage you to continue to think seriously about Mr. Willson’s questions: Why would I want to go to college? Why can’t I just learn stuff on my own, and make my own way?

We suspect it leads in the direction of a broad based liberal education, the value of experiencing learning together in groups, and the value of the social experience of a college town. We also suspect it has a lot to do with the quality of teaching, and the energy and innovation of particular teachers, instructors and professors.

Kansas State University has a new president, and so it’s a good time for the entire institution – indeed, the entire community – to go back to answer that very basic question, and to keep answering it, every day.









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