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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Sad students, easy classes? Something is not right”

On the heels of a new book that asserts students are learning pathetically little in four-year colleges and universities across the nation, a Jan. 27 article from the New York Times reveals that college students are also sadder and more stressed than they’ve been in at least 25 years.

The study of more than 200,000 college freshmen found that the percentage of students who described the quality of their emotional health as “”below average”” rose, while the percentage of those who said their emotional health was above average fell sharply — 12 percent since 1985.

What gives? If college is, as the first study convincingly argued, much less rigorous than in past years, why are college students so damned unhappy?

Sources in the Times article posit a variety of explanations, from the drab economy and job market to ill-preparedness for real life to the pressure cooker that getting into the “”right”” schools has become. These factors all have a great deal of merit, and probably all weigh heavily on the shoulders of college students who are simultaneously fighting to stay on top and facing woeful prospects upon graduation, no matter how successful they are in college.

But these factors alone seem too shallow to explain what feels, from the inside looking out, like a vast, dark weight on the collective chest of students across the country. Based on my own experience and the anecdotal evidence I’ve garnered from nearly four years at the UA, the studies are right: many of us are, fundamentally and more than we should be, sad.

Permit me a bit of self-revelation. In the survey, I would probably fall into one of the problem categories — stressed, unhappy, unhopeful about the future. I don’t feel, as I believe many of my peers don’t feel, that there can be much waiting for me beyond college. Everyone, from the media to my professors to my peers, affirms this sense of dread. There are no jobs, I am told. There are few prospects.

And certainly, these truths contribute to others’ and my sense of unhappiness. It sucks to think you’ve worked hard for nothing.

But for me, the worst part is that rather than nothing, I feel I have worked hard for, or at, the wrong thing. I came to college imagining that I was coming someplace where learning would be valued, where outcomes like job offers and starting salaries would be less important than the sense that I was entering the world a thoughtful, educated and aware citizen. I thought it would matter if I could think hard, write well, solve problems and begin to really understand the world. And in individual classes, it did matter.

But the overall timbre of the university — not just the UA, but higher education as an institution — has been, for me, sorely disappointing. While I think my professors care that their students learn and grow as people, the university looks at the bottom line. Institutes of what we still call higher education today measure success in terms of job-preparedness and earning potential. Perhaps they should change the name to “”hire”” education. I wish, more than that I could find a job when I graduate in May, that I had spent four years feeling valued because I wanted to learn rather than pressured to succeed based on some narrow, corporate definition of the word.

Many will say I am naive, whiny or out of touch with the real world. They’re probably right. But I can’t help believing that if universities, our own included, valued students a little more for their minds, their perceptions, their excitement and their idealism, than for their present and potential pocketbooks, students would have more room to grow into proud, wise and happy individuals.

— Heather Price-Wright is the assistant arts editor at the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

 

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