Higher education: more than just a phase

Matthew Rascoff and Eric Johnson’s commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education that challenges a notion that college life – or, in my book, higher education in general – is somehow bound by a beginning (that first time that we step into the hallowed halls of our chosen alma mater) and an end (moving those tassels from right to left, and receiving that coveted diploma) struck a chord in me. I saw a lot of my own college experience and the journey that I took towards becoming a teacher reflected in the points that they made in their piece. They also made me think some more about one of the things that I care about: fostering student success and improving the undergraduate experience.

I was particularly able to resonate with the following statement: “If higher education is going to thrive in the century ahead, it’s time to think of college not as a life stage or a credential, but as a lifelong community for lifelong learners.” It is, however, difficult for students not to think about college as just this phase that one has to get through if they do not associate it with positive experiences. Educators in higher educational institutions, therefore, are challenged to create environments that allow students to construct knowledge and foster positive experiences, such that students will view graduation as the beginning of a fruitful relationship that will last a lifetime – instead of a way out.

What Rascoff and Johnson said rings true – college ought to be a community of learners, where everyone learns from each other – and that community should include its alumni. The sage-on-the-stage professor that no one can challenge or talk to is an image that is no longer considered the norm. And the idea that graduation should not necessarily mean leaving this community, but rather serves as an opportunity to establish an even stronger relationship and assist in the education and formation of a new generation of students, is exciting. The initiatives of several universities along this line – Stanford University, University of North Carolina, Harvard University, and Columbia University, among others – showcase what this lifelong relationship might look like: graduates having lifetime access to course work, and being asked to share their experiences in the “real world” with today’s students.

Learning, after all, never stops. So why should getting a college degree – or even a master’s or PhD – be considered an end? Rascoff and Johnson presented a way of looking at higher education that will potentially enrich the experience of every student, not just during college, but long after the last notes of Pomp and Circumstance are played.

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