Hyperconsumerism and Education

As a student at a state institution for higher education, I have noticed peculiar apathy amongst my peers. I have met math majors who loathe math, history majors who find the teaching of such things unimportant, English majors who complain about reading and writing and, worst of all, education majors who find it near impossible to tolerate children.

Perhaps at one time the majority of students attending college were genuinely interested in the fields they had chosen. Now, though, it seems that students are more interested in the “experience” of college. In her article, “Why do students go to college?” Erica Jacobs explains,

“Now students want a job. If they already have a job, they want a better job.
Also high on their list is the “college experience,” which includes socializing with peers, becoming involved with clubs or sports, and participating in a study abroad program. Students long for the lifestyle portrayed on the covers of glossy brochures they’ve received in the mail.”

It makes sense that students complain and find little satisfaction in their academic pursuits when they are simply enrolled for the experience. Trips to top vacation spots are described as “resume builders” or “leadership experiences.” Students are encouraged to make friends in order to “network” and get their names out there, just so they can acquire a certain job in a certain location.

In his book, “The Trouble with Paris,” author Mark Sayers talks about this consumerist view of life, which he calls, “hyperconsumerism.” Sayers writes, “Hyperconsumerism turns everything into a product. We ourselves become products, but for products to be ‘buyable,’ they must have good packaging. If we don’t have good packaging, we risk becoming an ‘irrelevant’ product that no one wants to buy.”

As if the idea that college is all about experience is not bad enough, Sayers points out that we find our “packaging” so important that we often define ourselves by it. Our culture tells us that in order to be “relevant” and worth something, we need a four-year degree. This is the prevailing idea amongst students, even though, as Richard Vedder points out, “Some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.” Sadly, this results in students attending college to attain a degree they care little about and will statistically not help them anyway.

As a result, the “why” of education seems to be lost in the whirlwind of ever-increasing consumerism. Education is seen as a necessity so that one can go places and achieve the elusive “American Dream.” At some point, though, students must realize that education is important not only because it is a way to advance socially and see the world but because the privilege of education enables students to learn, grow and devote themselves to becoming phenomenal in a specific field of study. That simple change of viewpoint can change college from four years of monotony to four years of purpose.

-Timothy Plumberg is a senior at Slippery Rock University studying English Education

Do you agree that many students have become “consumers” of college?
Some might argue the “experience” of college is just as important as your degree. What do you think?