It seems as if we are in the season when the articles about college and university education focus upon the income earned after graduation. Occasionally, there is a slight variation and the article, news story, or blog post focuses on career success. And of course, these stories totally miss the point. These are the outcomes of the college education. There is not a guarantee associated with the college degree. In fact, many like to point out examples of those with college degrees getting the fast food jobs. Of course, these stories of less successful career outcomes miss the point as well.
College is a unique transforming journey tailored to each individual. The importance of the previous statement compels me to repeat and rephrase. A successful college experience will transform the individual in manner that will alter the trajectory of their life. The goal of colleges and universities is to create the environment where each individual can transcend the projected straight line of their supposed destiny. The roots of this extremely successful system have been around for over 2500 years. (This history will be the subject of a separate blog).
I read an interesting article pointing out some successful business people that did not complete their college education http://time.com/money/4388043/7-successful-ceos-who-dont-have-a-college-degree/. I could point out the article implies 493 out of 500 Fortune 500 CEOs do have college degrees but for now, let me point out the positive impact of this individualized system on a very personal level. By personal, I mean I will relate my own experience.
Mine is neither dramatic, awe inspiring, or particularly interesting. Rather, I think you may find in its very mundane nature the essence of the beauty of the college transformation. My father was enlisted man in the US Army Air Corp and then the US Air Force. He was the son of what is called a sharecropper today. My mother was college educated and the only daughter of a middle class family. My father passed away when I was five. This fact is relevant only so much as his Air Force benefits are big part of what enabled me to go to college.
Now I went to college in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My degree is a B.S. of Statistics. I am sure none of my professor would remember me. I attended the University of Florida, which even then was a large state institution. I had a great experience but what sticks in my mind the most is how those years form such a fundamental foundation of whom I am today. None of the technical computer skills are relevant but the decision trees we had to learn still are part of my planning process. The language I learned was Latin of which I remember next to nothing but the words of other romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, and even German have patterns I recognize.
My skepticism of doomsayers and pessimists remains as I remember clearly the abundance of articles about the coming Ice Age (see Time Magazine January 31, 1973) or this quote from a personal favorite of mine “"Climate experts believe the next ice age is on its way."- Leonard Nimoy, 1978. You can see more here http://www.populartechnology.net/2013/02/the-1970s-global-cooling-alarmism.html . Of course, these comments and projections are in direct contrast to the current Global Warming scenario. I am not here to take sides in either projection but rather point out, my nuanced view of both projections is a product of my college education that included science, mathematics, languages, social sciences, and a breadth in all subjects. This college education changed me forever.
Nor was this an easily accomplished transformation. I was young and unbelievably self-assured. My college education launched me in my career and I was successful beyond even some of my grandiose ideas. I also had some significant setbacks, which once again my college education provided the resiliency for recovery. Through it all, I continued to transcend what was likely a mediocre path. I have no idea where a child raised in a single parent family in the 60s would have ended up but I do not think it would be where I am now. Even with a college degree, I am not sure many (especially not me) would have projected me as the chair of an academic unit at a University. Nevertheless, here I am with even this blog providing some example of the change wrought by a college education.
Therefore, to me the college education is not the outcome but the opportunity. The design of each university and college is to create the opportunity to transform. Sometimes students do not avail themselves of the opportunity provided but still successfully graduate. That is their loss. There are other examples of those non-graduates that did encounter the transformation. That is great. However, for the vast majority the opportunity to transcend is there and they fully embrace all that is offered. This opportunity is not foisted upon any and must instead be embraced for the transformation and transcendence that will occur and not for the potential later outcomes. Those will likely occur but are absolutely the byproduct of the college education and not the primary goal.
I encourage all that read this and are considering college for themselves or their children, to reframe your questions. Do not just ask about the post-graduation outcomes. Rather, ask and listen to the answers about how the university plans to make the change and even the transformation in the graduate.
Sometime a prospective student reframes or abbreviates the question as “Why go to college?” Others (not students) touch on part of the question from the perspective of expense and cost. Meanwhile, some people look at the question and answer through the lens of their personal experience. It appears the framing of the above questions as well as the answers are often from each person’s perspective. We need to consider a broader perspective. That will not be easy. It will take time and patience to explore fully.
The purpose of this blog is to broaden the reader’s understanding of the importance of a college education and the value of the colleges that provide that education. The value and importance will be partly from the transformation this education imparts upon the individual. There are also societal values that come from an educated citizenry. There are cultural implications. There are generational commitments, which fuel the rhythm of transference. There is certainly the perspective of investment and the expected return on that investment. Of course, it is critical to understand the origins of what is today’s college education. These topics as well as others will be part of this series of blog posts.
It is also likely that I will not convey everything correctly or succinctly. My colleagues in higher education likely will disagree with some of what I post. That is fantastic. I welcome alternative points of views and all the corrections I will richly deserve. That dialogue not only informs and broadens everyone’s understanding but it also serves as a living example of civil discourse. The ability to communicate while agreeing to disagree is another of the wonderful benefits of this topic, a college education.
I hope for one final benefit for this blog. I hope that I as well as other educators draw back the curtain on how we attempt to educate. I think even we as educators and professors sometimes forget in the day-to-day grind the larger picture. We do not want to hide or be less than transparent about our learning goals but sometimes we do forget to voice our noble purpose. However, ask any of us and we will surely gleam when we talk about that moment when we discern awareness or understanding has dawned in our students. The sudden elation we feel when that proverbial lightbulb goes off.
So buckle up and enjoy the ride as I humbly attempt to provide my perspective on the answers to “Why have colleges and college education?” If all goes according to plan, I will post on this topic every two weeks. I hope that there will be some other posts mixed in as well as some pictures of my trips. Please if you read, comment. Agree or disagree, all viewpoints help so I look forward to comments.