I think it’s healthy to have a few mental topics that you can return to again and again throughout life, thinking through challenges and opportunities, turning them over in your mind, working through them, etc. One of those topics for me is college and life in college towns.
It’s why I’ve stayed involved with Penn State, and it’s also what leads me to continue thinking about college in the abstract.
In many ways I think we still conceive of the college experience as a sort of otherworldly bubble. The idea remains ingrained in the language—the idea that finishing college means “commencing” adult life. It also remains a part of the idea of adults who urge young people to make the most of their college experience before joining the “real world.”
Despite the trends which seem to suggest college will become more and more like the real world and less removed from its concerns, I think there remains value in retaining the idea of college as a bubble, or campus as a place that should be in some sense removed from the concerns of the immediate culture.
I think of the college experience as a useful bubble, preparing people through wisdom and accumulated knowledge so that they can later go and engage with the world as it is. Specifically, I think the implicit purpose of the college experience is to prepare people to do the work of mending the world’s fraying edges.
We will always need both economic and spiritual fulfillment, so there will always be a need for Herodotus and Homer and Shakespeare and Beethoven. There will be a need for people to learn about to speak about the longings of the heart and how we can satisfy or exacerbate the problems that confront our souls.
And many of those fraying edges related to our specific time and place, because of the success or failure of things like war, public policy, economic disparity, etc.