Why not enter this contest? We old fogies will offer some commentary along the way. I’ll start soon.
Update: I rather liked Rick Perlstein’s essay, albeit more for his account of how the distance between "college" and "the real world" had diminished (to the detriment of the former) than for his romantic account of extra-curricular life in the "good old days."
In my view, "college" now isn’t "college" any more for three principal reasons. First, the hallmark of the 60s was a demand for "relevance," which college bureaucracies now give to students in spades. Many students take relevance in the currency of careerism; others, in the currency of social activism. For a few, there’s no distinction between the two.
Second, too many faculty--especially at elite institutions--have little or nothing to gain from trying to teach students anything other than their narrow specialties. Few want to teach "gen ed," what we old fogies would call traditional liberal education. So college curricula become a mishmosh of specialized classes, which engage a few and disengage many. There’s little or nothing in the classroom to hold the attention of students whose extracurricular lives are much more interesting than what they can glean from the "specialist without spirit" behind the podium. (For more on this, see my brief comment on Ross Douthat’s Privilege here.)
Third, parents and administrators have conspired increasingly to infantilize the collegiate experience, so that everything is presented to kids more or less pre-digested. There’s little room for adventure or risk-taking of a good sort, simply a number of well-trodden, well-lit paths down which to plod.
The solution, I hasten to add, is not to return to the 60s (described here, for example), but to seek out odd little schools that have succumbed less to what Perlstein, I fear, rightly describes as the marketization of higher education. (Cushy teaching and research jobs, massive bureaucracies, and all the comforts of an upper middle class gated swim-tennis community aren’t cheap, after all.)