College Degrees Have Become Meaningless

College, as we know it in modern times, has become worthless. The idea of a university is rooted in the Latin ‘universitas,’ pioneered particularly by Plato, meant to describe a corporation of students interacting within an atmosphere that fosters genius, creates culture and balances scientific research with artistic inquiry, among other things. The American university, however, as the modern template of higher education, has sucked out the passion and honesty needed to inspire such an environment.
Plato once advised, ‘Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.’ Such advice has been echoed throughout history by thinkers like Maria Montessori, who strongly believed that teaching children involved encouraging them to ask questions, solve problems and correct themselves in an applied manner. She emphasized the balanced individual who is conscious of family, health and interaction while gaining a sense of competence and progress.
The atmosphere in which we now attempt to develop ourselves as intellectuals consists of a politically correct, subdivided, unengaged, multiple-choice, black-and-white, never-below-the-surface education system that is overly sensitive to multiculturalism and free of strong opinions.
Part of this change most definitely lies in the fact that universities almost always used to be privately owned and controlled, were inspired by national identity and regional dialogues and were generally made up of a small, privileged group of people.
This, of course, brings us to the fact that nearly everyone these days is pursuing higher education when the opportunity arises. And like everything else that becomes trendy and mass-produced, the unique qualities that once existed in the university setting have now merged with generally accepted international notions and approaches. That is, the university has become a consumer-oriented market that seems like little more than a stomping ground for the media and corporate world, free of originality, as it subconsciously becomes the biggest spoon in the great soup of globalization.
Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the last mythical figures in the modern intellectual world, seemed to describe our current situation most eloquently when he said, ‘Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing.’
I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell you how sick I am of walking into my new classes each quarter and hearing students only raise questions about grading scales, due dates and other obsessive intricacies. The saddest part, however, is that our university professors, not to mention the university system in general, are the ones instigating such an empty atmosphere. Perhaps with enough money students might find a private university somewhere that still encourages discussions, raw honesty, the pursuit of creative knowledge and fascination with life.
Bachelor’s degrees have become nothing more than a social status, a ticket to ride. Like a wise man from the UC Irvine Humanities department once told me, some degrees are like a California driver’s license: you can’t get by without one, but if you have one, no one gives a shit.
And that, my friends, is the Catch-22, because no one will believe you if you say a college degree is worthless unless you already have one under your belt.
I’m sure it has something to do with a culture that says art no longer needs to involve beauty, science is incompatible with religion, songs can’t be more than three and a half minutes long and chatting is something you do on the Internet behind a firewall.
That same culture might be shocked to hear Galileo come forth and say, ‘I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.’

Jesse Nickles is a fourth-year international studies and Spanish double major. He can be reached at jnickles@uci.edu.