Higher education

***Flawless (Senior Advice)

Disclaimer: This is just a fun reflection post I put up for my birthday. I make no promises to offer and worldly sage advice, just a few more thoughts on senior year and turning 21. Enjoy!

Yes, I know the caption image is from the song “Superpower.” Yes, I am an avid Beyonce fan. No shame. 

So I forgot to do a post yesterday – it was a pretty hectic and laid-back weekend at the same time. Today’s my birthday, and I’m finally turning 21 with less than 90 days to graduation. It’s also Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which I’m devastated that no one has mentioned up until this point.

More than anything, it’s nice to have a quiet day where I can reflect on how far I have (or haven’t) come since freshman year. Oddly enough, I can say that I’ve managed to accomplish everything that I wanted to do.  And a bit more than that as well. I’ve been a lot of people at Lafayette College who have broadened my perspective on the world and what it means to be a global, engagement, and active citizen, which  is more than I really could have hoped for at college. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I’m really never going to stop learning – which seems a bit obvious to most. But for me, I really had hoped to go to college, learn some marketable skills, and graduate. But now, I can sincerely say that I’ve done a significant amount more than that. And that’s really more than I would’ve asked for at college.

I think one of the greatest things about this year is coming to terms with what it means to be a college student, and a member of Lafayette’s community. More than half of the student body is full of over-committed overachievers (myself included), but I think that’s one of the many things liberal arts colleges offer that we can’t quite get anywhere else.

While I think its very useful to be involved in a single activity that they give their heart to. I strongly recommended allowing yourself to try things out. I really didn’t find my niche until junior year, and my that point I was having to deal with the level of social capital – both positive and negative – that I had created at our college. I think that it’s really important to be allowed to explore for a variety of reasons, not even just for the general learning experience.

I don’t think college is really about finding yourself. At all, really.

But I do believe that college gives the chance to discover who you are in relation to the world at large. The activities you take on, the professors you learn from, and the memories you create are all a reflection of the person who you have become in this world. I don’t think this viewpoint is isolated to college, or that college is the only way that you can accomplish these goals, but I think that it’s important to recognize that college may be one of the only places to get a full view of theories and methods behind social, scientific, and general societal concerns. You don’t have to take advantage of everything, but you should definitely refocus your efforts as well as you can.

… and if nothing else, do as much as you can to maximize your tuition dollars.

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What’s your take on the future of Higher Education?

What’s your take on the future of Higher Education?

Happy Friday everyone!

This article comes at such a convenient time for me – I had the pleasure of meeting Lafayette’s newest President yesterday, and she had so many fascinating things to say about the future of higher education and the resulting discussion on whether our degrees/education/experience/etc. has any form of quantitative market value. Additionally, she brought up the need to integrate new technologies with higher education models – using MOOCs as the obvious example. 

And that got me thinking – is that really what I want from my college? I can sincerely attest to the awesome nature of MOOCs – Coursera is one of my favorite websites, and I’ve been using Lynda.com to revisit some software models that I’m gotten rusty with. But at the same time, I think that there’s a lot to be gained from in-person discussion experiences. It’s one of the greatest things about my college in that perspective. 

I think that there are a lot of different takes on higher education models and whether some degrees are more useful over others – but ultimately that perspective leads to a damaging derailment of what college is. Yes, we all want degrees that provide market value and can further our careers. At the same time it’s important to remember that college should teach us more than that. Most of my greatest college experiences were outside the classroom experiences – through clubs, committees, and most often jobs. And this is probably the liberal arts student speaking to me, but I also think that the mentoring relationships that I’ve gained in college are equally as important as my other experiences. 

But I absolutely agree with Selingo’s point that some parts of the college experience are taken for granted. There should be a significant focus on career development, financial management, civic engagement, and even skills that should be general – language learning, computer and information literacy, and public speaking – that colleges should refocus into their curriculum. Students should be allowed to structure their college experiences, but it would be helpful if there were a set of base skills that they all had to learn. 

I think there will be a lot more revisiting in the future, but the ‘future of higher education’ isn’t quite what I’m worried about anymore – I honestly believe that many colleges are actively working to change their perspectives on what they can offer students. Unfortunately, we may be a risk for colleges being used as a substitute for the convoluted – and ultimately destructive – nature of the entire U.S. education system. Fixing one element of the problem may be a temporary fix, but it doesn’t get into some of the bigger problems – but I’ll tackle those in another post!

What are your suggestions for working/improving the world of higher education?

How to stick out like a sore thumb (in style)

Warning: This post concerns some serious topics of race and gender. And it will most likely make you uncomfortable. If you’re fine with that, read on. 

In case anyone who reads my blog hasn’t noticed, I’m an African-American female.

This is 100% true, I promise. Feel free to check my profile if you’re still not sure.

And I’m a double major in economics and religious studies at a liberal arts college. And I’m a perfectionist, a social media obsessed millennial, and a fan of mystery novels.

In other words, I’m just like you! But at the same time, I’m not.

It’s not a concept that many are comfortable talking about, but if we’re being honest, being black and female makes me stick out like a sore thumb. I’m currently serving as a trustee student representative and I’m taking a high-level business econ class this semester and guess what? I am the only non-white person there. This often means that I’ll get a nearly hilarious barrage of questions related to my perception of Lafayette – because it’s presumably different? – or whenever the topic of race/ethnicity/gender/etc. gets mentioned, everyone uncomfortably shambles around, hoping to not make eye contact with me.

This originally made me feel special – I’m the only person like me in the room! Then I got really annoyed – why does it always have to be me? Then I got self-conscious – now I have to be the best because otherwise, I’ll get stereotyped! And now, I just look at it for what it is: an unfortunate, but current reality of my situation.  In many situations, I will be the odd one out. And I’m not shy about offering my opinion based on my ethnicity and gender, but I will most certainty call people out for making generalizations on who they think that I am.

I can’t be anything other than who I am. And I choose to go into the fields that I wanted because I want to be a face or a voice for people like me, and people from a variety of backgrounds. Even though 99% of the time any accolades I get will be prefaced with [the first African-American female X] I’m surprisingly comfortable with that. I’ll never claim to speak for every community that I’m a part of, and I won’t let people assume that I do (or can, really).

Oddly enough, by being an individual voice – or sore thumb – I’ve learned how damaging generalizations and dichotomies can be.  I used to think in that fashion about my own identity – still do at some points. There’s no checklist that will capture who you are completely, and I urge you to give that same leniency to others.

Until then, you can stick out like a sore thumb – just like how I do.

On Disappointment, Anger, and Unemployment

Alternatively, why higher education promised us the sun, and gave us a rock.

So I come from a college that is pretty well known for engineering, or as most of you know, the only major that seems to be getting a lot of jobs at the moment. While my school is a great place, one of the things that I’ve noticed within higher academia is the heated discourse going on within different disciplines. Ranging from pushing students away at the arts and humanities, complaining that humanities majors should have to pay more or forget about attending college (http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/05/29/to-boost-post-college-prospects-cut-humanities-departments/), and the growing healthcare industry that doesn’t have enough qualified workers at the moment, it seems that American society at least is in a bit of a bind.

So where is the real solution in this situation?  And on the other hand, do we even know where the problem stems from?

While I certainly am not qualified enough to solve our economic woes, I want to take a stab at why these problems have occurred. As distressing as it is, Generation Y isn’t the first to suffer through economic turmoil, and it won’t be the last to deal with these kinds of issues. I believe our situation is unique part in thanks to the rise of computer technology and to an extent social media, which has led to the creation of jobs that were unheard of 20 years ago. But at the same time it has lead to the deterioration of certain industries, and the near eradication of many others. And right now, most of the skill sets we have are partially ones we grew up with, but the official jobs where our skills could be useful haven’t quite opened up yet, at least not to their full extent.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

But what does this have to do with universities? One of the more obvious answers is the inflation of education levels and skill sets. As my grandmother likes to tell me all the time, back in her day men and women could learn non-degree related skills such carpentry, bookkeeping, secretarial studies, etc. And nowadays, minus vo-tech schools (which tend to be poorly advertised and marketed as for students ‘who aren’t good in regular school’) those courses have completely been eradicated from a school’s curriculum. While I have personally lamented the dismantling of art programs in public schools, I also think that it is very important and disheartening that we’ve gotten rid of technical or skill based programs, as for many students who come from low income families don’t have the opportunity to attend college, and may end up graduating with little or no marketable skills (that’s if you consider a college education a marketable skill in and of itself, which I do to a certain extent).

Redefining Education

But more directly related to struggling college students and grads who are looking for work, I don’t really think that this is all of your fault. I believe a lot of this comes from colleges who marketed to us that qualities X, Y, and Z made them the best, and more often then not unless it was a specific career with a direct career path (accounting, engineering, etc.) many colleges twiddled their thumbs and pretended as though they had no idea what kind of jobs came with our degree. And while I won’t pretend that students shouldn’t research these things on their own, I do think most colleges do a poor job of prepping students for the career environment. At the very least, I would push for more courses on business/resume writing and personal finance, so at least the unemployed graduates these colleges create will have something under their belt. But I think 4 year colleges should also partner with community colleges, so students can learn a combination of of ‘career skills’ alongside a humanities education. As an economics major I can’t completely discount the value of a liberal arts education. But I think many of us college students need to push back against some of this backlash, and decide either to complement our liberal arts education with more technical based skills, or create our own paths that involve the humanities.

Another path is to remove the stigma against community colleges, which teach liberal arts classes and trades, and at a lower cost than many 4 year colleges. I know many of my friends were embarrassed to be at a community college, and most were only using it as a pathway to attend a more traditional university. Traditional is fine, but students who go to community college shouldn’t be ignored or demeaned. Personally, as a soon to be college grad, I’ve been lucky to escape some of the more perilous hurdles such as student loans, but if my high school career counselor had told me that I could make decent money as a mechanic or bookkeeper with two years and more than triple the cost (my school costs roughly $50-60,000 per year) I would’ve been sold.

So What Next

Overall, what I hope to get across is that there is a problem with our current educational system, and while there are no ‘right’ answers, there are certain things that need to change. Some parts of the college experience should be dedicated towards non-career related goals: being away from home for the first time, learning to adjust to a new environment, understanding academia on the university level, enjoying time with friends and meeting people from a variety of geographic and cultural areas, and so on. But in this economy, we’ve lost that luxury to a certain extent. And now we have to be pragmatic at 17-18 years old, and ignore the cheers of college and getting a education that may financially ruin us well into our thirties, forties, and further. It’s a hard sell, but I caution others to reflect on the college experience as they see it now, and on the bright side, this may turn Gen Y into one of the most pragmatic generations yet! We may not appreciate it right now, but the innovative skills we’ve gotten will last us a lifetime.

What do you guys think about the state of higher education? Feel free to combat my points as well!

The entrance to PCC

The entrance to PCC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)