There has been much discussion recently about whether higher education should be considered a right or a privilege.
Does higher education mean an undergraduate college degree? What, then, is the point of college and having a diploma? Many will say it’s to get a job.
As popular of an idea as this is, recent years show that is hardly the way the world, especially the post-recession American economy, operates. Further, if the point of going to college is to get a job, then are we in fact saying that being employed is a right? Is going to college an intrinsic good or an instrumental good?
Aristotle would say that every good must be considered for what it brings us, for no good but good itself — happiness — could be considered wholly intrinsic. But suppose higher education was considered a right, because through it you can get a job. Is graduate school then also a right?
And do we really believe that having a job is a right? If anything, shouldn’t employment be considered a responsibility? If the onus is upon me to contribute to society, does society have a responsibility to facilitate my contribution?
If a right is a service one is entitled to — for instance, housing — then who guarantees this service? The routine understanding is that we submit to the laws and sovereignty of the government in exchange for certain guaranteed rights and privileges.
This entire discussion requires abstraction to the level of social contract theory. What exactly does the government “owe” us as citizens? Seemingly, we are in a most unfortunate position, sworn into a contract with the precise terms as yet undefined.
Is it in the government’s best interest to bestow higher education on its citizens? Many would argue that for a society to flourish, its population must be educated. I agree with that sentiment for two main reasons. Firstly, for the government to rule effectively and justly, the population must be aware of the government’s proceedings. Secondly, for a society to flourish, people must be productive.
We need farmers and economists, lawyers and doctors, construction workers and architects. Of course, some professions require more education than others. But generally, history has showed that the most educated societies prosper the most.
We may consider what values are at play here. There must be ends receiving the attention and funding that higher education is not. Why do those outlets outweigh it?
I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that at the end of the day, to facilitate government-ensured national higher education — no matter how admirable that may be — would bankrupt our country. For the time being, we seem to be resigned to a privilege-based higher education system, as un-ideal as that may be.