Let’s face it, as I am rounding out my 9th year in higher education and seeing the terminal degree end in sight, I have witnessed and experienced a lot of higher education. Now my educational path has not been linear or short, as I took a few years in between each phase of my stints in school. I have been at the community college level, four-year private liberal arts college, graduate school at a larger land-grant HBCU, and now at an R1, land-grant, very large university. All of these occurred in the decades of the 90s, 2000’s and now 2010’s. Much has changed in the learning environments and in the world overall.
So if I had the opportunity to change one thing about higher education, what would I choose? I asked around, looked up some stuff (like any good researcher) and discovered a few things that others recognize: reducing costs, make it more accessible, make it harder to get in so the degrees are more valuable, focus on major/minors and remove the ‘core’ courses, make it more real-world, etc. All of these are great things. But when I stopped to really think about it, what would I want different, based on my experiences and knowledge?
Then I remembered some of my first experiences in higher education. I was SO young and did not know much about secondary school. I am a first generation and while I did have some cousins who had went through college, their wisdom and experiences were not shared with me. It all started with a substitute advisor I had, who basically laid out my first year in school. Not until the start of my second quarter (it was on a quarter system at the time) did my actual advisor let me know that I had chosen a difficult path with all the courses I selected. I did not know I could choose to take things slower, or at different places. In my inexperience, I thought it was like high school – you took the classes they told you and it all covered the same type of material. The following year looked a little bit different and when I went on to complete my four year degree several years later, I looked at education in a very different way.
All that being said, I would wish for higher education to teach students that their education is about themselves. That the courses should be more clear in description and content; perhaps even how it will be applicable to the individual. Offer an orientation course on how to choose a major, how to select classes, and career counseling before getting so far in on some courses you have ‘lost’ time. Now what I am saying, I know is sort of being offered, but how many of us know that this stuff is available at the start? Usually you only know, if someone who has been there, tells you or if you have had the unfortunate experience of getting really lost and find yourself in these offices.
Too many times, I hear young adults picking majors or “careers” that they truly know nothing about; or have chosen these because “it was expected” of them. There is the mindset that a four-year degree is just what is done following high school, if you’re lucky. I just don’t think that higher education is really for everyone. It is not a one-size-fits-all. I think you must want it, seek it purposefully, and alter it to your own specific needs. Higher education, in my opinion, should help out the students to tailor their education to their needs. Education should enlighten your mind, spark your interest in learning, and help you learn to explore deeper and further. I disagree with education being about “higher ed = higher pay”, because that is not always the case.
I wish that higher education would be about creating the best learning environments for those really seeking knowledge. To be those places of refuge where we can go to dive deep into the well of our areas of study. Where there are those excited about teaching us how to seek the depths of our own journey and inspire us to continue to explore. Places where we can be surrounded by others who are passionate about their own studies and encourage each other to rise to new heights. Safe spaces that challenge us on our own thinking and expand our minds and hearts as we learn. I wish that higher education would provide students with the opportunities to come to know that education is about the person and is not a product. We enter as one person but should not come out the same, we should come out with a richness and greater capacity for our own continued self-exploration.
So, that is my wish. Who knows if it will come to fruition. After all, I do have a magic wand, but it is plastic and as I tell all of my clients – the magic is all in the person holding the wand. Perhaps it has always been up to me, to make my education and experiences into my own personal journey. Perhaps that is the truth for us all. Our education is in our own hands…maybe my experiences in higher education taught me that after all.