America Will Sacrifice Anything for the College Experience (Ian Bogost/The Atlantic)

“The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.” Education has always been secondary to the college experience. College is primarily about offering a separate space for students to indulge in an often-risky lifestyle, as a rite of passage into a privileged adulthood. That’s been true for literally centuries. COVID hasn’t changed that, and won’t.

Parents and students are miffed because they don’t really buy teaching when they pay tuition. Instead, they get something more abstract: the college experience. Some of that experience involves education—the seminar discussion in a facsimile of a medieval monastery, the cram session under the vaulted ceiling of a library, the brisk, after-class chat with a professor across a grassy quad. But most of it doesn’t, especially the stuff that can’t be done from a distance, such as moving away from home for the first time, swilling booze at a house party, touring houses during sorority rush, applying face paint for a football game, decorating the cold, cinder-block walls of a new dorm room.

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner