A great deal is heard about the benefits of college education in business life and in professional life, but of its benefits in life itself, in life in its most general sense, little is heard. It is quite true that the business man is better if he be a college educated man, and that the doctor or lawyer is surer of success if his knowledge of medicine or law be founded on a college training; but is it also true that the man himself, regardless of his occupation or profession, is a better man if he have a college education ? Can he stand higher, not only in a superficial, but in a deeply made, sincere estimation ? Will he find more in life, and, finding more, appreciate and enjoy it better ? Will not only his practical outward life be assisted but his inward life, which includes his thoughts, purposes, and desires, be likewise benefitted, elevated, ennobled?
To each of these questions it must be answered affirmatively. Indeed so clearly are the answers affirmative that it may almost seem absurd that the questions were asked at all. Every man who has had even a slight experience in college, provided, of course, he has not so closely locked the doors of his own being as to shut out all possible influence around him, must feel himself benefitted and elevated. Those benefits resulting directly from study or intellectual work of any sort are not here referred to. Their influences are more on the mind than on the self and the character.
Again, to be among students, to be at a seat of learning where study, serious investigation, and every phase of intellectual activity are in the very air, is to have oneself aroused and, if not wholly, yet partially drawn into the whirlpool of mental and intellectual life. No one will deny that all such influences, quickening the mind and inspiring the thought, are beneficial and elevating.
Still another moral benefit of college education, or, perhaps more properly, of college life, forces itself upon us. At college, the men find themselves in a world, which in its way is but a fore-runner of the world which they all have to enter later. This is the case with all institutions which bring together a large number of young men from all parts of the country. The very differences in the natures of the students are an advantageous feature of college life; the variety of human studies, which they afford, is valuable. Not only are there sectional differences, as in our own university we have men from the east, north, south, west, and far west; but also there are those other differences, resulting not so much from locality as from early bringing-up and surroundings. The rich and the poor, the extremely pious and the extremely liberal, the moderatists, the sages and geniuses and the dunces and fools, the sociable and the unsociable, the sensible and the cranky, those whose aim is mental and moral and those whose aim is physical excellence, the bad and false and the good and sincere, are all commingled in the different college classes. And they but form a world in miniature, differing not at all in its inward nature form the real and large world; so that to be among them is only to be schooled for the wider association that must come later. For the character of college students can differ very little, if at all, and to see and know what men are and what they may and ought to be, to be associated with every kind of man, that the country affords through differences in locality or occupation or early education and circumstances, is the better to prepare oneself to meet the same, only stronger and more serious characters in later life
These benefits of a college course may to some seem rather theoretical and intangible; but surely they are quite real. They are influences acting silently and secretly but still forcibly. They are benefits which, though unseen, are yet almost key-notes of life, as the force of gravity is the key-note of the life of the universe. To them we may also add the sociableness and friendships, always attendant upon a college career, and the critical nature and power of clear discernment, which seem to belong to college men, and by which a student is so quickly and generally so rightly estimated. Nowhere, more than at college, does a man pass for what he is and for what he is worth. The scholar and the frand alike, the genius and the crank, are very soon detected by student estimation.