When I hear someone tell a young person that “college is the best time of your life,” I wince and think how sad it must be for a person’s life to peak at 22. College was fun, but, fortunately, it was not the best time of my life. It was however, the most important time in my life – a fact that had little to do with classroom instruction.
Almost all the memorable value of my years in college is related to relationships.
I forged lasting friendships with a number of my professors, such as Bruce Wheeler and Dick Townsend. Tennessee assistant basketball coach Jack Fertig opened his office for my roommate and me to play Nerf basketball after lunch – and he opened my eyes to the idea that an authority figure was also a real person with a family and real life.
Bill Mayo, my roommate, was responsible for much of my spiritual foundation today, as we would often lay awake late at night, sometimes with an assist from Ivy’s super happy hour, and discuss/debate the nature of God, the role of religion and the meaning of salvation.
The lobby of our dorm was one of the most important “classrooms” of my college years. It is amazing how irrelevant race and class are when a bunch of macho guys are watching The Love Boat before lunch. It was also in that lobby where a girl brought me a birthday cake in 1982, before our first real date, and three years before our wedding.
My valuable college experiences included all-you-can eat Antonio’s pizza lunches with future Congressmen Tim Burchett and mingling with seemingly every one of 12 million World’s Fair visitors, including a diminutive reporter from England my large friends and I “adopted” and nicknamed Dudley.
Those are the types of experiences that made college the most important time in my life. Other than a few finance formulas and accounting concepts, I don’t recall any actual classroom lessons from either undergraduate school or my MBA program.
This creates a quandary for higher education.
When a process, business or industry digitizes, it seldom returns to its old, analog ways. Universities are painting themselves into a corner with self-righteous, open hostility to the aspects of college that create the most lasting value, while mostly maintaining the premium prices set for an on-campus experience. If online classes are as effective as in-person classes, campuses and the massive costs associated with running them are unneeded. So are a lot of professors, since Zoom can handle meetings with up to 1,000 participants.
Those calling for all online classes should be careful; they may get what they ask for.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.