Perspective: Status Symbols And Higher Education

Mar 14, 2019

When I was a young teen, what I wanted more than anything was a pair of Levi’s jeans. In my mind, Levi’s would make the difference between acceptance and rejection by my high school peers. I can still hear my mother’s refrain to my plaintive pleas, “Levi’s won’t make you popular. It’s who you are, not what you wear, that really matters.”

Two recent higher education news stories brought back memories of the “Great Levi’s Debate.” Education, as a commodity, can be bought and sold at multiple levels. Argosy University, a for-profit institution, abruptly shuttered its doors, halting the education of its students mid-semester -- with few teach-out or transfer plans in place. Students took on monstrous debt for degrees that were far from Ivy League but coveted as much as those Levi jeans.

This week, a “Hollywood blockbuster” college admissions scandal was revealed. Parents were buying -- or photo-shopping -- their kids’ way into top tier universities through donations to a non-profit charity whose mission was to provide “disadvantaged kids” with “guidance, encouragement, and opportunity.” Well, perhaps these kids did suffer a disadvantage. Their parents’ actions clearly communicated that their kids were “not enough” just as they were. When you’re viewed only as an extension of your parents, and your academic success a symbol of parental wealth, the opportunity to grow into your own person is greatly constrained.

College should be about stretching your boundaries, being smart enough to know what you don’t know, and realizing that the tag on your jeans says more about who you were than it does about where you’re going.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.