There are three main characters to which the film bases its foundation around for its story: Malik Williams, an carefree lowbrow athlete who is an African American male. Kristin Conner, a sheltered soft white girl, and Remy, a unsophisticated unconnected white male. All three are overcome by the sudden realities that college life is not as good as it is advertised as all three go through disappointment by being unprepared (Malik), by being naive (Kristin), and by being unwanted (Remy).
One good thing about the film is that it does show that modern American colleges are just high schools writ large. The colleges are not places to build character , develop potential, or enhance personal advancement, but they are institutions used to gather all sorts of students in a one-size-fits-all atmosphere. It is an experience that usually is built for failure for most students. It would have been good if the film built it story about this travesty rather than racial politics.
But it didn't and that's where the films falls apart. Singleton ,it seems, had a pretty bad experience at Southern California. Through this film he lets it all hang out. There is no need to beat around the bush here. Singleton lets the heroes and the villains of this piece be easily seen.
The black characters in the film are pretty much seen as the heroes here while all the whites in the film are seen as the villains, save for Kristin, who was raped by a fellow white student.
Who can understand the inconsistencies of this film? Black gang members who come to the aid of a white girl after she points out to them who supposedly raped her? The ease that the black gang members have at the university while a bunch of skin heads meet in a dark small dorm planning violence?
The performances of Omar Epps (Malik) and Kristy Swanson (Kristin) are disappointing. They do seem like the third choices for the roles that they played in this movie (Tupac Shakur and Drew Barrymore were supposed to play Malik and Kristin but were unavailable). O'Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube ,Busta Rhymes, and Regina King were all irritating in their respective roles. And Laurence Fishburne was woefully miscast here as the history professor. Only Michael Rappaport did well in this film and he did considering that his character ,of the three main characters, changed the most in the film.
John Singleton wanted to take on the matter of race and inequality in American college life with this film. And he did so quite badly. It was sort like killing a fly with a shotgun. Life is far more complex than it seems and people are alike all over and he should know this. Higher Learning is proof that he did not understand this at all. Seeing the film ,then and now, would only confuse, disappoint and enrage the same public he would wish to speak to. Not to mention it would not entertain them in the slightest.