Paying for College by S. M. Hutchens

Mortal Remains

Paying for College

In her August 15, 2020 nytimes.com column, Shawn Hubler writes that in the wake of the coronavirus there is increasing unwillingness of college students and their parents, especially those served by expensive private schools, to continue paying high tuitions for merely online exposure to their colleges. She makes an important point in observing that the virus has simply exacerbated an already existing dysphoria—skyrocketing college costs with increasing questions about the value of a traditional college education symbolized in well-manicured campuses and the old ideal of an edifying "college life."

One wonders, however, what is being sought for which the merely online experience is the final straw of inadequacy. I am not cynical enough to believe there are no serious people left for whom what is wanted in a college education is more than a respectable distraction for late adolescence, or a necessary part of a class distinction, or that what is most desired by all those young and hungry souls dwelling above Cayuga's waters is ideally vocational training. I once knew an old lawyer of the trousered ape variety who told me his University of Chicago degree earned in the Hutchins and Adler days (something I coveted), together with a quarter, was worth a bus ride downtown. But he had lost much of his humanity, and it is a mistake to presume that everyone has.

No, what is sought among those who still have their souls is still "reared against the arch of heaven," perceived as worth paying much for, and placed at what is intuited (despite all reasonable proofs to the contrary) as an unacceptable distance by the fleshless imaging of electronic communication—in much the same way as among the devout the digitized service of divine worship is unacceptable. For the image must in either case have a certain quality to be recognized by the faithful as a medium of participation in the reality it re-presents.

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S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and longtime writer for Touchstone.

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