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| we've created a system where students are clients, and they're paying for an extravagant 4-year vacation that will do precious little, comparatively speaking, to augment their autonomy, earning potential or place in society.

The "students as clients" issue is becoming increasingly common in higher ed, and it really is up to administrative staff to stand up to requests that interfere with academic integrity on the basis of "I'm paying for it". If you want to spend 40-60 hours a week on activism, all the more power to you. But your essay is still going to be assessed on the same criteria as everyone else's. Or, to put it more bluntly, you pay to take a class, not to pass it (or to get an A in it). Of course, that doesn't always happen.

As for the "extravagant 4-year vacation", that's more debatable. I do think there are significant benefits to receiving an education at a college/university in terms of income, employment options, and cultural capital, as well as in developing certain things like critical thinking (which is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but still means quite a bit).