College should be more than tomorrow’s meal ticket.

“Education is not a preparation for life—it is life.” So claims a headline in one college’s promotional brochure.

Several recent books have explored how our culture robs children of a childhood exempt from adult experiences. Today’s college students suffer from a similar trend.

College was once a time of preparation in which young adults could search for truth, broaden their intellectual and cultural horizons in multiple directions, and decide what vocation best suited their talents. Today they are pressured to regulate their college years around the job they think they have the best chance of landing upon graduation. In the process, students are increasingly turning their backs on the subjects that interest them most, which may be the areas where their greatest potential contribution to society lies.

Advertisements for colleges increasingly picture students in front of computer terminals. “One of our fastest-growing majors,” these colleges proclaim, hoping to send out the message that they can produce technicians with a marketable skill.

Today’s college students are caught in an identity crisis. Their instincts as learners pull them in one direction, while voices of activism and a preoccupation with landing a job pull them in another. It was once an axiom that education was a preparation for something in the future. Today young people are made to feel guilty about being in a preparation phase.

The time has come to revive an idea that once seemed natural: the student’s life as a Christian calling. By calling I mean vocation—the occupation of being a student. It is not an idea that students alone need to hear. My ...

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