In recent weeks, the focus on these pages of the opinions section has been on issues of a core curriculum, grade inflation and the Honor Code. Included in the discussion over such issues has been the question of whether the Williams education has become a “consumerist” one in which students come to this school solely interested in acquiring a post-graduate career.
Many are dismayed at the trend, feeling that the constant production of investment bankers and consultants has come at the expense of Williams’ liberal arts education. By serving as what critics see as little more than a training center for Wall Street’s new crop, Williams has seemingly lost its educational quality and focus.
Such sentiment invariably brings up the question of why students go to college in the first place, and more specifically come to such a difficult, and also very expensive, school. Certainly, many students are here because they are interested in philosophy, art history, English, theater or other such liberal arts disciplines.
Many, for better or worse, are unconcerned with post-graduation job prospects and would much rather take a job working for the world’s leading nonprofits than its multinational conglomerates.
Others, perhaps not so civic minded, bypass the job market entirely by enrolling in graduate school or striking it out on their own as independent entrepreneurs. Still another group winds up in journalism, computer science, research, the performing arts or publishing. All of the above-mentioned options are viable for students to pursue, and certainly no one should begrudge them the opportunity to do so.
However, there are a large number of other students, perhaps a less technically-oriented group, who are concerned with the future, who do want to have a relatively stable career waiting for them after coming to Williams, who don’t want to spend $120,000, and yet have nothing except a diploma to show for it. These are the students who end up working on Wall Street.
Yet it seems as though the former group scorns those in the latter group. Accusations of being greedy, ,slick, or even evil invariably come up when describing the students interested in pursuing the well-paying, relatively stable careers that await them on Wall Street.
It seems odd that career-minded students at this school provoke so much scorn when career placement has always been an important part of higher education, and even high school to some extent. Why do people come to a top college like Williams?
If it were solely for getting an education and learning, they most assuredly could get it at a lesser-known, cheaper school than this one.
If they were really motivated, they could even read books in whatever they were interested in by themselves and not even have to go to college in the first place.
Obviously, there are other reasons for people to come here, the most notable of which is acquiring career skills they can use in a post-graduation career. College is certainly a massive expense for many, yet colleges as they exist today continue only because people realize that college is the key to a successful career. College students earn far more in lifetime earnings than those with only high school degrees, especially in today’s changing economy.
Williams in particular attracts a large number of students who pay the expensive tuition because they realize that Williams has an extraordinary record when it comes to placing students in post-graduation careers or graduate schools.
In fact, job placement seems to be a key tenet of the high school education as well. High school enrollment rates shot up dramatically during this century when earning a high school diploma became a ticket to getting into middle-class, blue-collar industries such as manufacturing.
Even today, with the value of the high school diploma diminishing in importance, programs that aim to prevent students from dropping out of high school do not stress the educational aspect of high school. Instead, they emphasize the better careers that come to those possessing high school diplomas.
Ironically, nobody resents the teachers in these programs for addressing the monetary aspects of a high school education. Yet when students at this school stress the monetary aspects of their going to Wall Street careers after graduation, they are often resented for their “greed” or “single-mindedness.”
Is there really something wrong with going to college because you want to get a good career after graduation? Or, more aptly, is there really something wrong with going to high school because you want a better career than the one you might get if you dropped out? The answer to both questions is a resounding no.
Wanting a good, high-paying job after graduation is neither “greedy” nor “single-minded,” but perhaps “human.”
Discounting the cost of college, the motivations of those working on Wall Street are hardly any different from those in other occupations. Just as the average investment banker is working to earn a lot of money, so is the average computer programmer, lawyer, doctor and even professor.
Those who work on Wall Street are bemoaned for “wanting to make it big,” yet little is said of the college graduates who dream of selling a Hollywood script, playing a lead role in a Broadway play, or getting their book published. Everyone seems to “sell out” sooner or later, yet doing so through some means provokes scorn while doing it through other avenues doesn’t.
Finally, “consumerist” education has not caused a decline in educational quality. First off, Williams could not continually produce professionals unless grads emerged with a high quality education.
Corporate recruiters come to Williams and not other schools only because they realize that students of this school graduate in much better shape than those from other schools.
If Williams’ “consumerist” education resulted in a decline of quality, and if the educational policies at this school didn’t produce the broad-minded individuals it is supposed to, this school’s graduates wouldn’t be as highly sought after as they are now. In addition, the “consumerist” education has not stripped Williams of its liberal arts disciplines.
While some may joke about the many corporate recruiters that come our way, the attitude that you can only succeed at Williams by working on Wall Street is one not espoused by all. There is still a place, as there should be, for those students who are interested in pursuing liberal arts disciplines.
Students who would rather enter the Peace Corps than Goldman Sachs still have options available to them. Nonprofit organizations do come to campus to recruit, and with the school’s new teaching certification program in conjunction with MCLA, more options are available for such students.
And, as we all know, Williams’ post-graduate success is seen not just by its placement on Wall Street, but also by its mark on graduate schools and fellowships. In addition, few of the writers, actors, composers, or filmmakers wishing to make it big will complain that Williams didn’t offer them a good enough education in those disciplines.
Any observer would notice that there are many different people at this school. As a result, students are likely to pursue a wide range of disciplines. This diversity should be appreciated, or at the very least understood by others no matter what discipline that may be. Just as a philosophy major shouldn’t be asked about what kind of job they can get with that major, an economics major shouldn’t be resented for wanting a career on Wall Street.