Cady Sharp Kuzmich, Editor-in-Chief
Students and faculty members discussed the value of college in a debate Thursday night, November 13, in the IRC. Three faculty members, Professor Nardi, Professor Avitabile and Professor Compton, argued high school students should not be pressured to pursue college, that our existing educational system is flawed and that students can learn just as much in the “school of hard knocks” as they can in college. Three SUNY Oneonta students tried to counter the professors’ arguments by saying the benefits of college far outweigh its costs and imperfections.
Professor Nardi, of SUNY Oneonta’s communication department, argued that “we cheapen the whole experience” by pressuring everyone to attend college. She elaborated, saying, “While everyone has the opportunity, only those with the aptitude and the desire should go to college.” Arguing that experience is the best teacher of all, Nardi listed several prominent historical figures such as Walt Disney, Michael Dell and Abraham Lincoln, who never attended college but were still extremely successful individuals. She explained that many students simply aren’t able to succeed in a college setting and end up wasting years of their lives and thousands of dollars in order to please their parents.
A young SUNY Oneonta student majoring in chemistry countered Nardi’s argument, saying, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” If students do not go straight to college after high school, there is an 80 percent chance they will not go at all, she said. She also argued that a college degree is often necessary to secure a job that pays more than minimum wage and offers benefits like health insurance. She added that a degree enables students to do more good in the world than they could without a degree. With a degree, students can become doctors, nurses, teachers and environmentalists.
Professor Nardi argued that there are plenty of admirable professions we rely on that don’t require a degree.
Professor Avitabile, of SUNY Oneonta’s history department, pointed out that as college becomes more expensive, degrees are losing value. “We have artificially pumped the system with so much money that it transforms what education should be about,” he said. Professor Avitabile, who also serves as the Mayor of Middleburgh, said, “teaching students that by going to college they will automatically get a job is absurd.” He asked the audience, “how many people do you know who have graduated with a degree and are unemployed?” Avitabile told the audience that his first job after graduating was at a gas station. He urged the audience to ask themselves, “Is this system working?” He closed his argument by saying, “Elitism of good intentions is crushing our students.”
Senior SUNY Oneonta student Marco Kramser maintained that the college
experience is worthwhile for all students since it offers a unique opportunity to get away from home and learn “what it means to be an adult.”
Finally, Professor Compton of SUNY Oneonta’s Africana & Latino studies and political science departments offered his two cents. “Life is about self-actualization. The choice is a right that should be yours. Your parents should not live vicariously through you.” Like Nardi, he too gave examples of people without degrees who have changed the world, such as Steve Jobs and Edward Snowden. He reminded the audience that national student debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion and called college a “huge financial investment that can hurt you.”
He urged students to “Get a job. Travel the world. Experience how people live.” He explained how in other countries, such as Denmark, students are encouraged to take gap years before attending college to learn more about themselves and to gain real-world experience. He reminded students that “college is not the real world” and that living in dorms does not teach students about what it means to be an adult. Compton criticized our educational system, calling it a credentialing service. He closed by reminding students, “Don’t drink the college’s Kool-Aid. Don’t drink your parents’ Kool-Aid,” and to make the choice on their own time.
While the professors criticized the “pay-to-play” educational system and its limited offerings, the students at the debate stood by their belief that high school students should be pressured to pursue college as long as the encouragement is positive.
The event was hosted by the debate club, which meets every Wednesday in Fitzelle 206 at 6 p.m.