What to do with higher ed…now
Those of us who have spent our lives toiling away in the fields of higher education rarely get asked to contribute to the real world. Too much ivory, and too high in the tower for anyone's good, I suppose. But when invited to the party, it would be impolite to decline. So here I am ready to make an offering and see if anyone is even remotely interested. I hope I am surprised.
These seem to be bad times for education. In normally bad economic times, we usually see a rise in enrollments in higher education. Jobs may not be available, but student loans with government guarantees might be. Better to wait it out, prepare for the future, and gain a greater marketability in the process. This is what I did in the recession of the early eighties. I thought I might be in graduate school for a year, maybe two. But ended up staying the full three. It paid off for me. Once the work was completed, I was fully ready for what was available. I haven't regretted it even once. (That my field of study would seem to be limiting--Medieval and Early Modern History--what?--is beside the point.)
This recession as been tougher for students and for schools of all kinds. At FPU many just did not show up, but others let us know that they were uncomfortable, didn't know what to do, didn't know if they would have funds, or jobs, weren't sure they wanted to take out student loans, even when only to supplement healthy scholarships. Now, it appears that the economy is balancing (a little bit), students are beginning to show up. Some High school grads stayed out for a semester, and now are ready to begin, maybe a semester late, but more confident and ready to take it on. Adult students may be ready to begin again.
Whatever happens in the short-term, we know (we do, don't we?) that the economy will stabalize, that we have lives to live, and that education is one of the most important factors in two major goals of many of us. It is the major pathway to professional and financial stability for us and our families. And it opens our eyes, ears and minds to deeper realities, and the breadth of meaning that lies before us. It trains us for our professional vocations, and it "educates" us, it literally "leads us out" of our narrower worlds into one where we might see opportunity and understand something of our place in the whirlwind that is our time. To know it as a swirling wind is to gain a slight hold on it.
But fear may be subsiding, and we are finding new ways to help make it possible for students to begin or complete their college careers with energy. Our ability to focus on the long term may be returning. We all hope it does soon. If you have experienced some of the same this fall, let me know how you are working through it.