Columbia prides itself on being “the largest and most diverse private nonprofit arts and media college in the nation.” But my mother told me bigger isn’t always better.
This month, Time Magazine conducted a survey of 1,000 adults, and 80 percent said they felt students don’t get the education they’re paying for at many colleges. Of the 540 college administrators Time surveyed, 41 percent agreed. Furthermore, 58 percent of adults and 69 percent of college leaders said they concur with the statement, “Not everyone should be encouraged to go to college.”
While it’s thoughtful of Columbia to make an effort to see the potential in nearly every student who applies, the above statement is true. College isn’t for everyone, and as tuition costs perpetually rise, America, a pioneer in higher education, has to face that fact.
The Chronicle recently met with senior vice president Warren Chapman, who touched on the college’s values, one historically being “to provide an opportunity … to students who couldn’t find a better place.” When asked if the college has a plan to revise the generous admissions policy, which was recommended in last year’s prioritization process, he said he wasn’t going to talk about it.
Whether or not the college has a plan to adjust the policy, the issue should certainly not be glossed over as if it isn’t an incredibly critical problem for students. Columbia isn’t wrong to give academically and economically challenged students a chance, and I understand not wanting to change the college’s core values. But college isn’t as affordable as it used to be, and perhaps some of Columbia’s values are setting kids up for failure.
The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows 8 percent of Columbia students are defaulting on their student loans. That figure doesn’t include alumni who are drowning in debt. An equally huge problem is the number of Columbia students graduating in a region where the job market lacks more arts and media positions compared to other regions. A smaller student body doesn’t necessarily mean the college’s cherished diversity will go out the window, but it may ensure more student success.
Columbia shouldn’t strive to be the biggest arts and media college but should focus more on being the best. The college needs to stop pretending it can compete with colleges that offer a wider spectrum of degrees, like DePaul University, and run with the dogs of its kind.
Smaller art colleges, like Rhode Island School of Design, actually graduate more students, which naturally generates more success stories. Maybe the college’s declining enrollment can be turned into something positive by embracing the smaller student body and focusing on making every student here one of the best artists in Chicago. Quality almost always beats quantity.