Move Along, Folks. Nothin’ to See Here
College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students
By: Jeffrey J. Selingo
Oh dear Lord, where do I even begin with this book? I considered not even giving it a review. After all, I didn’t receive it as an ARC copy; I bought it with my own money. Then I figured I can’t only review books I actually like. I need to review the good, the bad and the ugly, especially when it comes to books about my favorite topics: the U.S. education system, science and technology, religion and health. I actually bought College (Un)bound several years ago, right after it hit the stores, but it stayed on my shelf until I found the time and energy to read it.
As the title promises, College (Un)bound is an investigation of the problems with U.S. higher education and some of the approaches various firms are taking to solve them. While the information in the book was decent, none of it was new or surprising. I tried to pretend I was back in 2013 and the advances that have happened since then didn’t yet exist, but it was fruitless. The fact of the matter is, not very much has changed in U.S. higher education in the last 4 years. This book added nothing to my life, because I knew all of the issues it discussed. I will give Selingo credit for discussing some of the solutions. Although they mostly fell along the same vein of thought (separating the college degree from the “college experience” and moving at least part of the education system online), I hadn’t heard of some of the companies, and I plan on checking them out.
For some people, the information in the book may be a revelation; people who do not have family members who have been to college may benefit from the book. It’s possible that people whose family members have attended uni for hundreds of years without taking a critical look at the system may also benefit from reading College (Un)bound. I, however, fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. A couple of my aunts, uncles and cousins have graduated from college, and my parents have pursued at least some form of education after high school. The expectation, though, is that my younger sister and I would attend uni, no matter what. By the time I graduated high school, I already knew I didn’t want to go to uni, but I didn’t seem to have much of a choice.
In the spring of 2009, I became extremely ill. Actually, I felt fine before I went to the hospital and the doctors started injecting poisons into my system, but that’s neither here nor there. My parents and I decided that I was not strong enough to attend high school full time (I would have been a freshman). Instead, I attended classes when I could, but I spent the majority of my freshmen and sophomore years either at home or in the hospital. My high school sent a special education teacher to my house to administer my tests, tutor me, and take my homework. Despite being so ill at times I couldn’t even stand, those two years were the best years of my life in terms of education. I’ve always been a reader, and I understood more of the lessons when I read them and worked out the problems on my own. I got ahead of the curriculum and actually enjoyed my educational experience. I was dangerously underweight, but I felt like I was learning much more than I ever had before. In those two years, I realized classroom-bound teachers don’t really do much for me. I carried that attitude with me all the way through uni. The final two years of high school were bad, but the following four years of uni were worse. To this day, I’ll always consider uni the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” By the time my last year or uni rolled around, I was broken. I’m still putting the pieces back together. Reading College (Un)bound actually helped me heal a little. I had to read it slowly because I’m battling serious uni-related PTSD but each time I survived a uni-related panic attack brought on by the book, I grew a little stronger. I realized that if I survived the first 21 unpleasant years of my life, I can deal with whatever else life throws my way.
My background means I’m probably not the target audience for College (Un)bound. My experience taught me the exact same thing the book would have, though the book would have been decidedly easier to digest than the events of my past. If you’re someone who absolutely loved uni, good for you, but perhaps you could take some time to see what other people are experiencing. The U.S. education system is geared towards a certain type of student, and doesn’t care about those of us who do not fit in its box. If you’re a student who already knows they don’t fit in the box, reading this book may help you expand your options. My biggest piece of advice is this: if you don’t feel you’re ready to go to university, don’t do it. Start working or take a constructive gap year, but don’t force yourself into uni. If you force yourself to go to uni when you know it isn’t right for you, you’re setting yourself up for heartache. You can always go to uni later; there’s no hurry.
I’ll admit that the information in College (Un)bound is pretty solid. I didn’t fact check every little detail I came across, but the overall themes seemed to check out. I will point out one major flaw in the book, though. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to us “lazy college-going millenials.” While I don’t doubt that there are some millenials who don’t want to do the work to learn what they need to, there are some of us who are driven and knowledge-hungry. I belong in the latter category, but when placed in the classroom setting, I look like I belong in the former category. Lazy/bored/annoyed college kids are a symptom of a broken system, not the cause of it. Besides, why would we bother going to a class in which the professor just reads the book aloud? We can do that on our own time, and Google concepts we’re unfamiliar with. College (Un)bound doesn’t seem to take into account just how tech savvy my generation is. We can use almost any device placed in front of us without so much as a glance at the user’s manual, and we know how to find reliable information at breakneck speeds. Because our professors are usually so much older than us, I don’t think they’ve fully grasped the power of the internet.
I’m giving College (Un)bound a two-star rating, because the information is solid but it’s outdated. The book is also incredibly boring. If you want something to read before bed, this is your book. Here’s a link to College (Un)bound on Goodreads and Amazon, should you decide to check it out.