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.