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Do I Need College?

I interact with college students daily. Many are overwhelmed with their class progress, disagreements with professors, grades, online learning, the pandemic, future employment prospects, and concerns about the value of a degree.

Many of the students view higher education as a glass half empty. It is not easy for them to think positively about higher education. Their narratives about colleges and universities suggest education is on life support. Their higher education description revolves around the challenges and rarely the opportunities.

Although they are registered college students, many view colleges and universities as unimportant. They are dismissive of what formal education does for people. It is unfortunate; anecdotally, students are critical of college attendance dismissing it as a waste of resources. Often, using famous people who did not attend college or dropped out as an example, one does not need to attend college.

Some students even believe they are essentially mortgaging away their futures, as though education is a calculated risk along the lines of investing in commodities. But, yes, being college-educated is transformative, empowering, and provides opportunities to those who decide to pursue credentials in higher education.

Most jobs require some credentials. At a minimum, an employer may ask for a high school diploma up to a doctoral degree. However, the possession of academic credentials, irrespective of the well-documented problems in higher education, remains advantageous, transformative, and empowering. Learning can transform a person's presuppositions about the world and provide opportunities not otherwise available.

However, administrators in higher education must realize that the public questions the value of degrees. The individuals seeking the degrees also question the return on investment. For example, the students often measure the returns in salary and not the transformative and empowering value of education. Students frequently point out that if they wanted to be transformed and empowered by knowledge, they could have done so independently without paying several thousands of dollars.

Let us suppose students attend colleges and universities for the expressed purpose of gaining employment upon graduation. The emphasis should be on creating active learning environments that support experiential learning and relevant work skills. If education focuses on career, colleges and universities must become flexible with developing curricula that support appropriate work skills through public and private partnerships with industry leaders.

Also, the developers of higher education curricula must be mindful of the perception that higher learning institutions suffer from what Paulo Freire refers to as "narration sickness." Freire argues against a banking system of education where teachers make deposits of knowledge to students—deciding what knowledge is appropriate for students to learn.

He proposes as an alternative a problem-posing system of education where students learn to solve real-world issues by being active rather than passive participants in the learning environment. This way, students and teachers work together as coinvestigators in the learning environment fostering student-teacher and teacher-student engagement.

It may not be easy to separate from the belief that there is too much lecturing in higher education. Using Freire's argument about banking education is not an indictment of lecture-based learning because it is necessary to teach concepts. However, it is worthwhile to reimagine higher education as an active learning environment. Thereby extending the classroom beyond defined spaces and creating learning spaces that expand into the "real world."

The challenges in higher education are not so much about knowledge acquisition. Instead, it is whether the experiences are relevant to the educated person adapting to society. Also, students are preoccupied with where their college and university are ranked and if employers respect their school. Educational institutions are not responsible for entry-level wages; employers "reasonably" decide to pay prospective candidates.

Since colleges and universities are learning centers, they are held accountable for training students who graduate from their institutions. I do not mean to sound naively optimistic about the state of higher education. However, this writer would be remiss not to acknowledge that students are learning and constructing new knowledge.

However, administrators can do more to support students in applying their knowledge to solving real-world issues, including more service-learning opportunities. For example, students pursuing exceptional education degrees may perform service-learning at the academic support center or partner with the accessibility services department on their campuses tutoring students with disabilities. In addition, the service-learning opportunities can extend beyond the college campus to the local community centers.

This service-learning opportunity provides students with experiences working with the population they train to educate. Colleges and universities may broaden their options for electives. Allow students to create minors with courses from other disciplines they believe would benefit their education and training. The Dean or Chairperson of the various departments would sign off on the minor.

The problems associated with higher education may require a change in pedagogy. This pedagogical shift will require rethinking how to prepare the students for their post-college experiences. Importantly, this educational change may require a more significant partnership between colleges and universities with the public and private sectors and create innovation centers on campus. Hence, students learn to design, test, and share ideas.

This community partnership provides students with opportunities to hone industry-related skills. In this way, they gain meaningful experiences in the public and private sector partnerships that translate into applying their newly acquired knowledge to solving problems.

This training would be different from the internship at the end of their programs. It would serve as part of their training toward earning their academic credentials; for example, the training while matriculating would provide the student the opportunity to merge the "science with practice." The number of hours the students spend with the public and private sector partners counts as work experience.

The call for a pedagogical shift in higher education is not new. Education stakeholders should transform education from a purely cognitive exercise to an authentic experiential learning environment. While administrators develop flexible experiential learning curricula, students are encouraged to learn their zones of proximal development. Know what they can do independently without the support of a more knowledgeable other. Find a mentor (more knowledgeable other) to help bridge the gap between what they do well and what needs improvement.

Become proactive in seeking opportunities to use their knowledge to develop their skills. Learn to work collaboratively with others to solve problems. Utilize the career services department at their institution and, when possible, participate in the training seminars offered through the respective departments.

The ideas mentioned here may already be practiced on college and university campuses but siloed to specific departments and not the entire campus. Hence, some students are better trained than others.

Thank you for reading this post.

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