Much ballyhoo is made in modern times by baby-boom alumni, harkening back to nostalgic days of collegiate self-discovery, subversive art and culture and deep intellectual connections that sparked the internal revolution of a generation. Reading about post-WWII and Vietnam-era university life, I find myself jealous and scorn the age into which I was born. “Oh, to live in a time,” I think to myself, “when intellectuals and artists conferred over coffee and strong drink until 3 in the morning!” To have cultural icons like Kerouac, Brando, Dylan and Lennon instead of Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and whoever the hell writes books these days. But it seems to me that college itself functions as it always has: by fortifying the American middle class.
The essential purpose of college is to attain a degree. That is, to pay for instruction and education that would deem a graduate work-qualified; thus, more marketable. The college as an institution has functioned in this way since the beginning of the 20th century, and even earlier with more prestigious universities: buy the degree; increase your earning power. Even in those heyday 50s and 60s, with all those activists, artists and freethinkers; chances are if they graduated, they moved into the professional realm. For all the personal progress made, simply for its own intrinsic merit; at the end of the ride it was time to grow up and get a reasonable job so that one could have a comfortable lifestyle. And so, whether rich, poor, or, more likely, middle class: college was important because it afforded access to a comfortable life in the middle class. College has the same goal today.
So if the purpose has remained the same, what has changed? Where college students were once seen as radical, questioning, eternally-curious subversives–to be feared and distrusted–now the same population is seen as passive, politically inactive and sinfully materialistic. So the change seems to be internal. Instead of valuing the college experience for the opportunity to become ourselves, (in which some risk might be involved) we attend for the opportunity to attain comfort. We arrive at the same end point as our forbears, but without the sense of spirit and freedom along the journey. Why? Is it simply that we have no delusions of college as anything more than a means to an end?
If we have learned anything from the halcyon days of collegiate yore, it is that, in the end, no matter how passionate and dedicated, one must inevitably ’sell out and grow up,” unless one is to be poor. Where are the revolutionaries of the 60s now? They’ve moved to the suburbs and bought SUVs and plasma TVs. They are materialistic and narcissistic and as conservative in some ways as their villainous parents of the WWII generation. Those intellectuals who stayed up all night chatting in cafes about art, politics and life are now lounging comfortably on the sofas of academia, or making good money in the private sector. If our parents struggled through their 20s living the bohemian life, only to settle in suburban adulthood, why shouldn’t we at least get a jump start?
The successful life today is laid out early, clearly and reads as follows: do well in school, participate in the activities beneficial to college applications, acquire a degree in something sensible and land a job that will allow you a comfortable life. Soon marry, sire a few children, and teach them: “with my guidance, you too can have a successful life.” And so we lead them in the same manner. Once they have attained the same success (with inflation), we may now retire quietly to the golf cart, mistress and reckless braying about why today’s kids lack the authenticity and drive of our generation.
We are told what success is from the beginning. Our parents and teachers cannot conceal their enthusiasm for this path. The pressure mounted upon us to go college is immense. If one is born middle-class and suburban, college is expected; as much so as attending high school. From schoolwork to extracurricular activities; each entire weekday, and much of the weekend, is devoted to things that will enhance our college application. Not much is mentioned in adolescence about the transcendental, “intrinsic value,” of the college experience. There are no courses in self-education, cultural enhancement or personal growth. In fact, the personal life of the student is only documented insofar as it will be relentlessly busy, it will require great effort, and it will occasionally be peopled by beer-guzzling sorority girls and fraternity boys. Finding oneself is not part of the brochure for success.
The truth is, once one becomes a college student, focus is again geared toward the future. As high school was simply an accumulating of merits for the college application, so college is an accumulation of merits for the marketplace. One cannot land a well-paying job by broadening one’s culture, leading the well-read life or discovering the potential of the self. One lands a moneyed job by acquiring internships, networking with movers and shakers and keeping an immaculate academic record. As often as it is celebrated by the baby-boom generation, there is no value placed on the journey of self-discovery. It is considered better to be amiable and qualified than free-thinking and self-actualized. In the middle class lexicon, free-thinker (unless affluent or tenured) means trouble-maker. How well would Warhol, Ginsberg or Mario Salvo fare on today’s campuses? What about Noam Chomsky or Edward Albee?
1. In the passage, what is the author’s attitude towards the contemporary college experience?
a. Sarcastic
b. Critical ✓
c. Both a & b
d. Despondent
e. Optimistic
2. What, according to the author, is the difference between college and high school in the current scenario?
a. Students have more freedom in colleges than in schools
b. Students have to acquire internships, network with people and maintain a good academic standing
c. Students are radical, questioning and subversive towards current social norms
d. Students work towards the goal of a desirable career in college ✓
e. Students in college work to become free thinkers and to find meaning in their lives
3. What, in the author’s opinion, should students look forward to in college?
a. The chance to learn more about the field they are pursuing
b. To become politically active, even subversive
c. The chance to be able to work towards comfortable, moneyed lives
d. To become amiable and more qualified individuals
e. To learn more about oneself and become a better person ✓
4. What is lacking in today’s college experience?
a. The opportunity for self education, personal growth, and cultural enhancement ✓
b. Political passivity in the students
c. The desire to pursue materialistic goals
d. Opportunities for students to gain skills to make themselves more employable
e. Lack of an emphasis on students learning more about themselves i.e. self-discovery
5. What is the main difference in the college experience of the previous generation and the current generation?
a. In the end, everyone had to ‘grow’ up to lead a comfortable life
b. Students were more interested in improving their chances at a good career and now are interested in a more transcendental experience in college
c. Students attitude toward college was that it was a place where they could ‘find themselves’, rather than an institution that would guarantee them an enviable livelihood ✓
d. Students now have to put in more effort, and are more busy
e. Students are politically and socially more vociferous than before

1. b
Paragraphs two and three would support this conclusion
The author does not overtly display humour, or sarcastic wit.
The authors tone is not despondent or witty. This passage is slightly factual, and the author presents his/her views as facts. The author does not seem to offer an opinion here.
2. d
End of paragraph espouses the view that students are now more focused on their careers after college, rather than college itself.
a,b,c,e are actually points taken from the second and second last paragraphs
3. e
The second last paragraph emphasizes on this point
a is point that does not occur in the passage
b is just a characterization of the students of yesteryear
c is just what students are working towards in college today
d does not occur in the passage
4. a
The second last paragraph elaborates this point
b -> The author laments that students are not politically active in these times
c -> Students today are actually geared more towards gaining wealth, rather than improving their intellect
d -> Nearly the same as c
e -> This is true according to the passage, but option a contains more
5. c
a -> Students faced this reality earlier as well, but are more focused towards it these days
b-> The exact opposite of what’s stated in the paragraph
d-> True, but the paragraph does not explicitly state that this did not happen earlier in colleges
e-> Incorrect, students are almost devoid of these traits now

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