20Teens and Hippies: Are They Really That Different? – Part 3
This series has been sparked by the research I have done for my grad class, “Sociology of Adolescence.” I have spent a fair amount of time studying the history of teenagers in America. In my previous post, I looked at the similarities between the Civil Rights movement and today’s movement for the rights of the homosexual. Today we are going to look at how the generation of 1960s and 1970s changed higher education and how this generation will do the same.
False Promises and Control
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a tumultuous time for higher education. Schools such as Berkley and Kent State saw dramatic and well-documented uprisings of students against the establishment. Often, history records this as simply being about anti-Vietnam sentiments. This movement was far deeper than just anti-war. It was about false promises and control.
The college scene of the 1960s was very different from the college scene today. It was common for schools to require a shirt and tie for men in class and even the lunchroom. Girls had even stricter dress and conduct codes. Many institutions tended to view themselves as a sort of “surrogate” form of parenthood and treated college-age students as more of an extension of teenagers rather than young adults. Freedom of speech, political choice, and in some cases even religion were not tolerated on even public campuses. This lead to the contentious relationship between faculty/administration and students that boiled over into demonstrations, sit-ins, and sometimes even tragic violent encounters.
Boiling underneath the surface was the perception of false promises and unmet expectations. For decades higher education was viewed as the necessary step to guarantee a quality job with quality pay. Suddenly, in the ’60s and ’70s this began to shift. Students began to realize that, with the massive increase in students attending college, a bachelor’s degree was not the guarantee it once was. In fact, they were seeing that many of their friends who were skipping college were jumping into the workforce and making far more money then they were. The shiny promises of the ivory tower started to become suspect driving a wedge of distrust between late adolescents and their authority figures.
Obviously, higher education did not go away. In fact, it saw a resurrection, however at a cost. Universities had to surrender control. Freedoms that all Americans enjoy are granted to college students. Campuses became far more integrated, not just by race but by sex as well. The numbers of young women entering the college ranks has grown exponentially.
The “false promises” returned to a “partial truth.” Fields requiring higher education blossomed over the next couple of decades, though as we will see in a minute, this never really resolved itself. Regardless, the number of students going to college continued to grow at incredible rates.
More False Promises, More Control
Many financial experts are predicting that the excessive student borrowing that we are seeing today will lead to an even greater economic collapse than the housing bubble brought us a few years back. Quite frankly, the cost of college has not kept up with the cost of living. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “The current balance of federal student loans nationwide is $902 billion, with an additional $140 billion or so in private student loans.” The article goes on to say, “If the trends continue through 2016, the average cost of a public college will have more than doubled in just 15 years.” If costs are getting so high, why are so many students crippling their futures with tremendous amounts of debt? The answer is false promises.
Pressure and More Pressure
When I was in high school, I scored a 29 on my ACT. That wasn’t an amazing score, but it wasn’t low. Add that to my 3.5 GPA and fell into a category that attracts a lot of pressure to attend a four year university right out of high school. Though my parents tried to talk some sense into me by encouraging me to attend a cheaper community college first, I listened to the pressures of guidance counselors, teachers, and
con-artists college recruiters and jumped right into a prestigious four-year private university. My college debt is crippling. I only blame myself, but the fact of the matter is that there is tremendous pressures for a middle class student to borrow more money than they can afford because “that’s what impressionable marks smart kids do.”
Those of us who work in youth ministry see this first hand every year. I watch as my students feel the pressure to live up to “expectations” and attend a school that they can’t afford. We are always guaranteed that we will make enough money to pay for our loans. However, reality will often disagree with that statement. Student after student will testify that no one sat them down and walked them through what their actual payments would look like. It is glossed over as though the payments will just be “easy” with all the money we will make from the jobs that our piece of paper will guarantee us. Rajeev V. Date, deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ominously warns, “If one is not thinking about where this is headed over the next two to three years, you are completely missing the warning signs.”
Where Are We Headed?
I first must admit that I am not financial forecaster or remotely an expert, but I speak from personal experience and the trends I am watching with the students I minister to. Parents and leaders need to realize that students are beginning to see this bubble that will soon burst. Bachelor’s degrees no longer guarantee anything other than massive loans. For many demographics, there is a ridiculous and unfair stigma placed on students who forgo college to enter the workforce. However, for many students in the future, this may be the smarter move. As the cost of college continues to sky-rocket many students are beginning to question the worth of that piece of paper. Is it really worth $25,000, $50,000, and even $100,000 worth of debt?
So what does this mean? It means that, if we are not careful, a great generational divide will form between parents and authority figures who place the pressure on the students to go to college, and students who don’t see the economic value. Distrust and feelings of manipulation will grow in this generation. I believe this will lead to a massive change in how college is viewed and even operated. Will it lead to a return of a hybrid apprenticeship program? Will it lead to the merciful death of “liberal arts” education (I once
paid borrowed well over $1,000 for a badminton class…because my school required P.E.).
Our role as youth leaders and parents should be to help students make wise choices. That means listening to their fears and concerns. That means keeping an open mind about what might be best for their future. We must never lose sight of the fact that God is the one in control, not the institution of higher education. That means His way may not always be the American way.
Thoughts? Questions? Where do you think higher education is headed in America?
previous posts in this series: