How Culture Influences Higher Education

In my humble opinion, the negative perception about community colleges as well as many vocational schools when comparing them to traditional 4-year colleges and universities- is driven by a competitive American culture…

The most obvious example of competitive culture is in the sports and entertainment industries. It’s absolutely rampant in both. For instance, every major sport ensures that a winner can be crowned.

“Winning is Everything.”


Furthermore, the best professional athlete in a particular sport earns the lion’s share of wealth and fame compared to the rest of the players. Meanwhile, success in the music industry has evolved into stratospheric levels of fame and money or nothing. In both situations: it’s win big or go home.

Now what does this have to do with education or community colleges? In general we are talking about competition and how it affects our lives. Competition has positive impacts and negatives impacts. First, competition drives us to work harder. The US has flourished because we push ourselves and others to compete on all levels – academics, athletics, science, business, etc. The down side, over time, is that we belittle or ignore anything below 1st place. A competitive nature is part of human nature, but Americans have cranked it up a notch or two.

In a nut shell, we have the same types of beliefs about our careers and the education that got us there. We all look up to a set of coveted careers: Lawyers, Doctors, CEOs, etc. Just as in sports and entertainment these careers are the mega-superstars of professions. Everything is ranked, tiered, and sorted. So when we look at our educational backgrounds, the same instincts kick in: Did you go to an Ivy League School? Did you go to graduate school? What was your GPA?

Overall, we don’t recognize the best of the rest in education or professions. Since there is always something better, something more elite, something more prestigious – we as a society downplay the rest…

So where would we be without the rest? In a big mess. For every Lawyer, Doctor, and CEO there are Paralegals, Dental Hygienists, Administrative Assistants, and others – each are critical roles even though they may not have the highest pay or prestige. Without the hard-working, unknown soldier – each system whether a business, hospital, or law firm would fail to function.

In reality: everything counts – everyone matters. That’s where our competitive nature fails us the most – when we don’t give thanks where thanks are due. When we don’t take pride in careers that aren’t in the Highest Paying Jobs lists obsessed about on the Internet. When we fail to acknowledge that community colleges provide crucial education to a wide range of people.

Sometimes a quote catches the sentiment exactly:

“Nobody remembers Who Came in Second.”

-Charles Schulz

Just to highlight how ingrained this “belief” is in our competitive culture, answer these simple questions: Who lost the first Presidential Election? Who lost the last five? answers here

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