Today, many people look at the skyrocketing costs of college and rightly question its worth. The difficult entry-level job market for new graduates and the growth of online learning options are among the factors causing some to doubt the usefulness of the “college experience,” at least when matched against its burgeoning expense.
This does beg the question: What makes the college experience a worthwhile one?
As I see it, extracurricular activities that develop professional and social skills, nurture creativity, and build a sense of community are the most significant value-added benefits of the residential collegiate experience. My appreciation for such activities has been informed considerably by my own experiences as a department editor and reporter for my college newspaper many years ago.
The Torch is the weekly student newspaper of Valparaiso University, a Lutheran-affiliated school with a liberal arts bent in northwest Indiana, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1981. As a young person I had longed to work on a school newspaper, and those wishes became a reality during my final two years of college.
I pored myself into work for The Torch. I wrote dozens of articles and columns, mostly on academic affairs topics within the university. I also assigned stories to reporters in my department and edited their work.
The Torch also became the social and intellectual community that I previously didn’t have at Valparaiso. A former colleague once wrote that The Torch became our own college of sorts, where we wrote and edited our articles and debated about academic and campus life and issues of the day.
Our little newspaper was not free of sophomoric writings (some penned by yours truly), and at times we took ourselves too seriously. But it did feature some excellent reporting (including in-depth investigative pieces) and a body of insightful commentary about collegiate life and academic institutions. (I’m not imagining things through a rose-colored lens. This post was spurred by my rediscovery of a bound volume of The Torch from those years; the quality is evident.)
The Torch was the most important extracurricular experience of my college career. The topics of my articles and columns were limited largely to campus issues, but even this was heady business for me. There was something powerful and scary about writing pieces for publication with my byline appended. This sense of influencing the campus dialogue was enhanced by the fact that many VU students, faculty, and administrators read The Torch and paid attention to it.
Some of the articles I wrote demanded close attention to detail and accuracy. For example, I wrote an investigative piece in which I was able to elicit admissions from campus administrators that a popular political science professor had been denied tenure on grounds beyond the official criteria for tenure evaluation. I also did a series of articles following the aftermath of a student-to-student slaying that had racial overtones at our predominantly white campus.
A valuable experience
By my observations as a professor, it appears that internships and part-time jobs (the latter often due to financial necessity) are supplanting meaningful student activities in the competition for students’ time and attention. However, even looking at this from a purely vocational standpoint, working on the college paper called for intensive writing and editing work and the shared management of a publication with weekly deadlines. It required the development and application of sound judgment. In short, it presented challenges that one rarely gets in internships or part-time student employment.
Indeed, it pains me that when I peruse a student’s resume, major extracurricular activities look somewhat quaint or marginal compared to internships that carry more heft in the job market. Perhaps I should accept this as an inevitable change, but my experience causes me to wish otherwise.
Note: With Commencement season coming to a close at colleges and universities across the nation, I beg my readers’ indulgence as I use a short series of posts over the next week to reflect upon my own collegiate experience and its immediate aftermath to address topics pertinent to this blog.
Other posts in this short series