Is higher education actually about education?

Has anyone ever seen someone wearing a t-shirt that says “we are a drinking school with a football problem?” Or any variation there-of? What do advertisements like this say about the school? And why does that somehow boost the popularity of the institution?

My thought is that so many (not all) colleges and universities advertise themselves as a way of life. They sell “fun” over education. They sell sports, clubs, and Greek life over what college should really be about – Learning. Growing. Becoming prepared for a job.

But fun sells.

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Don’t get me wrong, sports, clubs, Greek life and any extra-curricular activities are extremely important to the college experience. And honestly, most of memories from my undergraduate years revolve around the experiences I had outside of the classroom. But, they are not the point (or shouldn’t be). Yes, you go to college and make friends, likely go to some parties, and participate in clubs. But college isn’t summer camp. We don’t go to college to have fun. We go to college to work and to learn. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fun and have a life outside of school because work-life balance is imperative.

I remember in high school, some of my peers would just boast about how they couldn’t wait to go to college so that they could drink all weekend, meet boys/girls, etc. Very few seemed actually excited about going to college to learn! Movies do the same thing. Most movies about college students portray huge parties, a lot of drinking, and (gulp) little studying. And people wonder why they do poorly in their classes. And it appears to me that universities keep growing, continue expanding athletic facilities, and spending millions of dollars while they remain understaffed. And being understaffed = stressed faculty that don’t have the time or resources to give individual attention to all of the students who need it.

How can we make college about education first? It must have been that way at one point.

Higher education setting us up for … debt?

I am sure we all know someone who is up to his/her/their ears in college debt. For perspective: (1) the USA student loan debt totals $1.44 trillion, (2) there are 44.2 million USA citizens with student loan debt, and (3) the average monthly student loan payment is $351 (https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/). Attending college and/or graduate school is becoming a huge burden for millions of people. And we are “told” that attending college is the only real option to be successful.

So, where does that leave us? We are financially burdened if we seek higher education degrees. But we won’t get a decent-paying job if we don’t seek higher education degrees (or so we are told). Either way, we are financially stressed.

I am one of the very fortunate ones. I had a full academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree and am in a field that typically pays students to go to graduate school. So, I am student debt-free. But, I am the minority. The majority of my friends and family with any higher education degree are swamped in student loan debt. Swamped to the point where they can hardly afford to pay rent and their loans, let alone for food, gas, etc. It is a real problem, one that I don’t know how to fix.

We need to find a way to make higher education more affordable for the masses. People should not be in debt for 20, 30, 40+ years because they want to learn. The question is, how do we do this?

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Scholarships, fellowships, and grants help reduce some of the financial burden for many; however, many people either do not know about these awards or do not want to put in the effort to fill out applications. For those who don’t want to fill out applications, there is not much that can be done – but I do think that high schools, colleges/universities should try to do a better job about advertising different financial aid packages. Students also need to do a better job at researching different scholarship options – I hear of scholarship money not being used because nobody applied (shake my head)!

But scholarships, fellowships, and grants don’t solve the problem alone. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this issue? How do other countries (i.e., Germany) make higher education so much more affordable? How can we get a different model implemented in the USA?

Paying to be taught by __________?

I preface this post with the statement that I have the utmost respect for all teachers. And that I mean no disrespect by this post, which potentially could be polarizing. I have had lot of fantastic professors who have forever changed the way I think and what I want to do. They have instilled in me a desire to learn, to grow, to push myself. However, I have also had some professors or instructors who did not leave lasting impressions (well, not a positive one anyways), typically because they showed little enthusiasm for being there. If a teacher doesn’t want to be in the classroom, why should the students?

From pre-school teachers to college professors, teaching is such an important profession. Important, yet often underappreciated and thankless. Parents and students alike are quick to judge teachers, complain to them about grades, say the test/quiz/project/whatever was unfair, with little acknowledgement of the work teachers put in each day and night (because anyone who knows a teacher or teaches knows, the school day is not over when the kids leave).

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That being said, I cannot help but wonder: why do millions of students pay thousands upon thousands of dollars each year to be taught by people with little to no desire to teach? Not that all professors don’t have the desire to teach, as many of them love teaching.  However, I have had enough teachers in my going on 9 years in higher education to know that there are some people who are brilliant in their fields and very impressive people but who should probably not teach. And many (likely the majority) of those within that category don’t even want to teach – which exacerbates the problem. We send our kids off to pre-school where they learn to share and play nicely (among many things) from people who, for the most part, want to teach. They made that their career. But, why are we willing to pay huge sums of money, go into debt for decades, and sit in classrooms where we can play “where’s Waldo/Emily/Eric/the girl who sat next to my last class” every day and still never see a familiar face to be taught by people who really just want to do their research?

From my perspective, there are two types of people who go into academia as a field: (1) people who want to teach and do research and (2) people who want to do research. There is nothing wrong with either type of person. Not everyone likes the same things, which is what makes the world interesting. I don’t have any real words of wisdom about this perceived “issue,” and I understand that it would likely not be feasible to hire people to teach and separate people to do research (on the large scale – this is done but not broadly). I am curious to read what thoughts others have and how (if any) can we help change the system.

 

Mission Statements: Blog Post 1

Companies, organizations, businesses etc all use mission statements to define the “entity’s” goals and values. Public and private colleges and universities typically also provide these statements which help potential students, employees, etc catch a glimpse of what the school is all about. I attended Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree and now again for my PhD; however, I am not going to address VT’s mission statement here. Instead, I looked at a small private liberal arts school and a larger public research school for comparative purposes.

Juniata College, a small private school in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, USA, writes: “Juniata’s mission is to provide an engaging personalized educational experience empowering our students to develop the skills, knowledge and values that lead to a fulfilling life of service and ethical leadership in the global community.” http://www.juniata.edu/about/mission.php

Whereas, Old Dominion University, a public school in Norfolk, Virginia, USA states: “Old Dominion University, located in the City of Norfolk in the metropolitan Hampton Roads region of coastal Virginia, is a dynamic public research institution that serves its students and enriches the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world through rigorous academic programs, strategic partnerships, and active civic engagement.” https://www.odu.edu/about/planning/mission-statement

I chose these two institutions because my mom attended Juniata, and I completed my Masters of Science degree at ODU. The dichotomies between liberal arts vs. research schools and private vs. public schools are interesting in and of themselves. Each type of school provides different experiences, which may cater to individuals’ personalities, career goals, and aspirations. Personally, I like Juniata’s statement better than ODU’s, as it gives the impression that the college will assist students in fulfilling their full potentials at a more individual-level. Juniata’s mission statement also states “ethical leadership,” which I think is an important distinction from “leadership” alone. As we discussed in class this week, it is imperative that as students, faculty, and staff, we all uphold high ethical standards. Specifically, the phrase “ethical ambition” hit home to me. We don’t need to step on others’ toes (so to speak) to achieve our dreams, and this mission statement demonstrates that the college strives to ensure that its students understand and apply this sentiment.

Old Dominion’s mission statement seems less personal and more generic and almost a little self-serving with terminology like “strategic”. Obviously, partnerships are imperative to successful educational systems, but the word strategic as used here rubs me the wrong way. This statement also states nothing about ethics, which I find disconcerting. Perhaps the differences in these statements stem from a larger school requiring a more generic mission statement and a small private liberal arts school having more freedom and flexibility in its choice of prose. Although mission statements tend to be rather vague and fairly similar, it is interesting to more closely dissect them for the different nuances. Could make for an interesting literature review paper – mission statement distinctions across different higher education schools.