Is Higher Education A Thing Of The Past?

I am a community college Associate Professor of Communication Studies. I absolutely love teaching as much as any human being can love their vocation. This is not to say there are aspects to my job I do not particularly care for (use your imagination….yet it begins with “admin” and ends with “inistrative,” with the word “bullshit” at the end). Yet when it comes to the act of pure teaching itself, I am the proverbial pig in slop; I absolutely love to instruct…it is my sanity and, for lack of a better term, my safe and comfy space in an existential world.

However, not everyone in 2017 is down with the notion of “higher education,” be it in the form of community college or the four-year university. I hear arguments that we now have the world wide web with all the information in the universe available to us with the click of a mouse. Why go to a classroom to hear information that we can easily and readily retrieve from our home computer? You cannot seriously suggest that college is for everybody, right? Wrong.

Perhaps Winston Churchill had the answer many decades ago. “I love to learn,” he stated, “but I’m not always willing to be taught.”

Enter Higher Education.

Many of us need the formal accountability a higher educational institution provides to receive instruction in an effective manner. For those highly motivated self-starters who need only their own engine to get motivated, good for you. Yet I would contend that learning in community is nearly always superior to the autodidact approach even if you are one who prefers to be self-taught.

Yes, I am a college instructor and somewhat biased in my perception of the the need for higher education in contemporary society. However I would contend it is my belief in the system that drives my desire to teach rather than my desire to teach drives my belief in the system. After all, I am a product of the community college system as it literally provided me with all the tools and skills necessary to lead a functional and productive life –at a time in my life that I did not know the definition of the words tools and skills.

Therefore I offer you my five most compelling reasons to believe, support and engage in higher education, primarily at the community college level, in 2017.

Community College provides hope of direction for the directionally challenged. I am absolutely convinced that a college degree is not the right path for everybody; yet I am also concurrently convinced that some college courses are wholly beneficial to nearly everybody. Who would not benefit from a public speaking or interpersonal communication course in which you learn how to communicate more effectively in all your life endeavors? Who would not benefit from a basic skills English or Math course as all of us will practice these skills consistently throughout our life? If you are vocationally minded, how about a radiology or a welding course? Community College allows one to take courses to enhance their life skills while figuring out what direction life needs to take them.

Community College and the University are sacred learning spaces committed to the ideals of seeking answers, critiquing information while wholly committed to developing cultural literacy. Cultures need single-minded institutions to foster and preserve important social values. We need places committed to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We need institutions committed to constantly asking the question, “Why?” If we did not have these bastions of intellectual pursuits, who would carry this much needed torch in society? We need institutions committed to carrying on the best interests of society: Academic institutions committed to behavioral and hard sciences; elected bodies committed to political governance; agricultural industries committed to food sourcing; medical institutions committed to warding off disease; civil liberties groups to ensure power does not go rogue, and the list goes on. We need single-minded institutions wholly committed to uphold the integrity of fundamental social necessities.

Community College is a place accepting all individuals who are now ready to learn…and even those who not quite sure. I recently instructed one of my public speaking classes that there should be no safer place on the planet to admit not knowing something or being wrong more than a college classroom. After I made this proclamation, a new college student, Samuel, mentioned that this is a far different cry from high school.  “If we confessed to know knowing something in class,” said Samuel, “We would be berated and yelled at because it was likely something we should already have known as it was probably taught to us the previous year.”

I mentioned to Samuel that if one did not learn it the previous year it was because they were not yet ready, for any endless variety of reasons. The universe knows I was not ready for much in terms of learning my senior year in high school.

The Buddhist saying comes to mind, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Readiness. Are all my community college students ready? No. And some may never be ready. Yet in my experience community college has been both the fertile ground for those seeking if they are now ready and for those who are indeed ready. And I always prefer to be the teacher who simply appears when the wonderful confluence of readiness meets educational opportunity. It is a feeling like no other.

College graduates simply earn more money over a lifetime. One of my favorite economists, Steve Levitt from the University of Chicago and of Freakonomics fame:

The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is he or she tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear: The market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that the economists currently have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

If you are indeed one of the few with no college education and a fantastic salary in a profession you love, good for you! Yet have the astute wherewithal to realize you and others like you are outliers, that you are not part of the norm. Most of us need the traditional route of formal higher education.

If you are a college graduate in a less than desireable job with a less than desireable salary, take heed, the day is young. A college degree is a stark contrast from the Wonka golden ticket, it is more the ace-in-the-hole when the opportunity you create, arises.

A college degree, like other challenging endeavors, develops character and says much more about you than it does about your knowledge base. I often explain to my classes that the single greatest predictor if one will stay in a marriage or get divorced is a college education. From Albert Mohler:

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%.

And why? What are the skills and characteristics needed to survive a marriage? Hmmmm…how about all the same skills needed to obtain a college degree? Patience, perseverance, self-motivation, determination, both deference when needed and assertiveness if called for, compromise, and, of course, what we have been hearing since kindergarten, the need to play well with others even when you really do not want to.

Yes a college degree will likely earn one more money over a lifetime, yet, more importantly, it will make one’s lifetime all the more worth living. Perhaps the single greatest gift higher education offers its students is humility; as higher education should shed light and reveal all in the world that we do not know over the little we do know.

Let me reiterate, a college degree is not for everyone. Yet certainly college courses can be helpful to everyone at some level.

So whether you are former community college attendees Walt Disney, Ross Perot, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah or even Tom Hanks who stated that, “Community College made me who I am today,” you are in good company as a current community college student or future student.

It is 2017 and we need higher education opportunities as much as ever. And let this pig in slop continue to do his thing.

 

jimmysintension

7 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this, and re-inspired me even. Your passion for education really rings true, and it’s something that I know I want to follow through for myself. And I think community college gives the space and time to unlock to find out for ourselves what drives us forward, and how do go about pursuing it.

    It’s alright to begin at different starting lines. Thank you.

    • Hello Joelle…and I hope you are doing well. Always keep that end goal in mind. I really thank you for the positive feedback. Sounds cheesy as hell, but the beauty of life is that each day is new one filled with possibilities yesterday did not offer. Go for it!

  2. Hi Professor Jimmy! Would you mind if I shared your articles on Social Media such as Facebook or Twitter?

    I’ve heard the argument before that a College Education is no longer necessary because of the wealth of knowledge available to anybody on the Internet. Google is truly a powerful tool but like all tools it is flawed; flawed because of human error.

    At work I’ve had the fortune of meeting some interesting characters, who were good men with illustrious backgrounds, but my intellectual exchanges with them brings to light exactly why we cannot simply learn from reading the Internet. Giving me erroneous “facts” like “Armenia is not a country,” is one example. They felt so confident because of something they Googled. I learned from writing essays in Crafton Hills College that “not all sources are created equal,” and consistently by far Internet sources are the worst. You really have to know what you are doing when sifting through them.

    The Internet is a good supplemental tool to Higher Education but not a replacement for it. Community College and California State University (CSU) in my opinion is where you find most self starters and self disciplined people. I want to be a Community College Professor or a CSU Professor because I believe that I would enjoy it as a vocation more than anything else I’ve had the pleasure of doing. These young people aren’t lost, they’re figuring it out and willing to accept your guidance.

    I found out while I was a Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the US Marine Corps that I took great pride in and highly enjoyed instructing and guiding young adult minds. There is no greater honor in my opinion.

    A career in the military is short lived, even if you make it to retirement. What better way to guide and instruct young adult minds, to old age, than in Higher Education?

    I want to be like you Professor Jimmy, a Community College Professor. I’ll get there eventually.

    • Thank you so much Libni. I am perfectly open to the idea that higher education may one day be a thing of the past, after all, video did kill the radio star. AAAAAhhhhhh….but it did not! Seriously, I do mention that learning in community is very effective and I am open to that community being something other than community college or University. Yet, at this time, I do not see anything in position to potentially replace it. A country without higher education scares the hell out of me as it will leave the masses subject to leaders of capitalism who have very little interest in critical inquiry. Higher education is to the mind what going to a religious institution is for many…a time to experience refocus, redirection and cleansing from the absolute bullshit and mind numbing mindfucking of daily life. A place to think…we need this so badly! I can’t wait until you are my colleague one day Libni…and, unless you teach math, I really want to take your class.

  3. Yes, a college education can be helpful to some, But it can also be damaging to many. You say having a college degree statistically earns you more money, but that money earned most likely is used to pay off thousands of dollars in debt received from said education. According to an article titled “The Average student loan debt in every state,” the federal reserve says the student loan debt is now greater than credit card debt at 1.4 trillion dollars. This is also coupled with the fact that more and more degrees are being swept up in the whirlwind of life. Many graduates are not working in the field they spent four years studying in. And many more graduates find it hard to get employment. According to a Forbes article titled “College degrees aren’t becoming more valuable…” George Leef states that 36% of college graduates are working in jobs that do not even require college education. Leef goes on to say that 38% of Millennials believe there college experience has not payed off.

    This notion goes against the years of academic rigor that many professors themselves have put in. Many professors love what they do and their energy and enthusiasm toward their students is inspiring and motivating. This supports your theory that when a student is ready to learn a teacher will appear. Unfortunately many many students, me being included, have had to sit under the tutelage of the blessed adjunct faculty. I do appreciate the part time or adjunct faculty that I have been taught by and I completely respect the position. I myself hope to one day teach at a college level. But having praised the few adjunct that are committed to what they do, I will bring awareness to the many adjunct who just like us students, are living paycheck to paycheck. Their sole purpose is to pay their bills. Most of the adjunct I have sat under do not have office space, do not even have a key to the classroom, and 90% I have had work at at least one if not two other schools.This causes professors to be unprepared, sometimes late, and the worst of all no real feedback. A study done by American Association of University Professors states that 76% of U.S. faculty are adjunct. So yes a student might be ready to learn and eager to grow, but with the high cost of tuition, the scare of unemployment, and the need to eat, adjunct professors might be doing more harm than good.
    Overall yes higher education symbolizes hope and prestige for many, still many others would rather enjoy binge watching sesame street on Netflix before they torture themselves with someone else’s dreams.

    • Wow…very well stated Maranda. You must have an excellent Communication Studies professor. 🙂

      So, to summarize, you point to the cost, irrelevance, and adjunct faculty as some of the current flaws in our higher educational system that make it less than ideal for many. I am pleased you are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater as it sounds like you still believe in the system, imperfect and flawed as it might be. You make an excellent case and I really respect it…thank you.

      First off, I realize you are not proposing this yet, to be clear, I am adamantly against free higher education for one simple reason: People do not value or take full advantage of that which is very cheap or free. This is a basic psychological foundation of the human psyche. Whether it is piano lessons, therapy, a new car, you name it, we will never cherish, take care of, appreciate and love that which is handed to us. Not to mention that one who receives free handouts is now subject to, and is the bitch of, that entity which gives it. (Please understand I am talking in the context of contemporary first world US…I do believe starving people, myself included, would absolutely appreciate a free loaf of bread). I suppose one could argue it is simply TOO expensive, to which I would respond that with the amount of scholarships -hundreds of thousands of dollars of which go unclaimed each year- and government educational programs available to students, that these costs can be defrayed tremendously…but you have to really want it and be a go getter, to be sure. I would also argue that one can receive a great, if not better, higher education from the less expensive institutions (CC or CSU) than even the Harvards of the world who care for undergraduates as much as their student teachers do.

      Insofar as irrelevance, I constantly argue that college degrees say far more about the character of a person than anything else. Someone very close to me recently received their college degree quite reluctantly (hint: he spoke to our class) yet recently landed a temporary job of which would have been highly unlikely had he not his degree. As stated in the blog, college degrees are not golden tickets to job fantasy land; rather they are the ace in the hole that will get you over the top with the opportunity YOU bust your ass to create. One MUST bust ass in the job market while finding a vocation of your passion IS A FULL TIME JOB IN ITSELF, college degree or not. I love Millenials…I would rather chill with Millennials than boring ass baby boomers or even Gen Exers…but the whining has got to stop. Go get it Millennials and quite your bitching. 🙂 If you only knew how damn hard it was for me to get my current dream job at Crafton…endless hours of very hard work…and I had two Master’s Degrees under my belt.

      Adjunct faculty. The funny is I hear the same complaints about many complacent full-time tenured professors who are just riding out the clock to retirement. Many, if not all, of the inspiring full-time professors you mentioned were once adjunct faculty for at least 5 years or more, myself very much included. In a perfect world I do agree with you that having 100% full-time faculty would be much better and ideal; yet, seeing the glass half full, I would contend that we can learn something unique from anyone at anytime. In addition, with tools such as ratemyprofessor, one can get an idea of the class and professor they are getting into. Yes, I do have my issues with the anonymity of such tools, yet I would surmise that if one’s rating are consistently poor due to apathy, one could know this before committing to their class.

      You provide a really solid argument Maranda and I respect it a great deal. I believe all higher education should be on the constant move toward improvement and take such issues very seriously. Thank you for contributing to this very important dialogue.

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