by Kelly Fahey

On the first day of every one of my classes this semester at UNCG, each of my teachers mentioned something about state budget cuts to the university system and more specifically, to the Media Studies department. Most of the complaints were about the increasing size of their classes, which directly affect the learning environment.

I’ve noticed classes growing and a slight ebb in the quality of my education, but this semester marked the first time that professors just came out and told us that we weren’t going to get as much out of their classes as students in the past had.

According to UNCG’s website, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students has increased by more than $2,000 since I started attending the university in 2010.

I chose UNCG for a few reasons, one of which was the fact that it claims to be a liberal-arts school. As a film student, it’s pertinent that I have small classes with ample opportunity to share my scripts, films and editing work. Yet I find myself competing with 25 other students who want the same thing. I’m graduating in December, and I don’t feel prepared to take on a career in film. I didn’t even touch a camera in class until the spring semester of last year.

I don’t blame my professors, a number of whom I truly respect and who have taught me well. I don’t even think that it’s necessarily UNCG’s fault either, although I have seen my department savagely cut while a $92 million rec center and yet another campus police station are being built on Lee Street. I think the problem is that higher education has lost its way. Flashy new buildings attract new students to the university, who apparently have become much more important than current students and their increasingly lackluster education.

As students at a university, we are consumers. The product we consume is education. But if you buy something from a store and it doesn’t work, you take it back and return it. You can’t return your education, even if it’s broken.

What you can do is demand that the product you are putting yourself into debt for is worth it. Or, better yet, you can break the model.

There are plenty of people who believe the consumer model of higher education is a flawed system, and advocate against it. This is what groups like the North Carolina Student Power Union fight for. Rather than a privatized form of higher education, they believe that free, public higher education would benefit students. While this is not their sole mission, it is in their core beliefs. I’ve attended their protests and know some of their members personally, and while I root on their behalf, I can’t help but feel like it’s a lost cause. Higher education is big business, and the rift between the student body and administrators seems larger than it’s ever been. Free higher education seems like a pipe dream at this point.

I truly feel that higher education shouldn’t be treated like a commodity. It should be an option for people who want to continue to learn or hone their skills in an area or a craft, not a failsafe to ensure financial stability and success in a profession.

The latter is exactly how my family described it to me. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for college after graduating from high school, but my parents assured me that without a good education, I wouldn’t be able to get a job.

In many ways this is true, and I am very thankful that my family supported me and wanted me to achieve my full potential, but after entering my fifth year as an undergrad, I can’t help but think I had or deserved more options than to attend a university or be unemployed for the rest of my life.

Kelly Fahey is an editorial intern at Triad City Beat, at least until he graduates.


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