What’s the future of post-secondary education?
I think about this, although many decades out of university, perhaps because college classes in the U.S., where I live, are so expensive for many students, with no — of course! — jobs guaranteed at the end of it all. I never continued on to any form of graduate study for a variety of reasons:
I loathe debt and could not imagine how I would pay for it
I saw no need for it in journalism
I attended a school with 53,000 students and, while I am very happy with its high standards, did not enjoy feeling largely ignored and anonymous. That put me right off any more formal education
I attended the University of Toronto, for years deemed Canada’s most competitive and demanding school. I loved having super-smart, terrifyingly erudite world-class experts in their fields as my professors. I still remember their names and their tremendous passion for Victorian poetry or Chaucer or history and the excitement they were able to convey to us about it all.
I enjoyed having super-smart fellow students, knowing some of them — as they have — would go on to lead some of my country’s financial, intellectual and cultural institutions.
In the 1990s, determined to leave journalism (and then having an MD husband’s income, certain this was possible), I studied interior design at The New York School of Interior Design. Loved it!
What a totally different educational experience:
Small classes. Nurturing teachers fully engaged in making sure we were succeeding. The inspiration of talented classmates but no cut-throat sharks.
It also showed me something really important about my learning style. I need it to be hands-on: drawing, painting, drafting….all were challenging but also engaged my brain in wholly new ways. I liked learning!
Like many people, I’m more of a visual and tactile learner and sitting in a lecture hall for hours — what most college classes still consist of — was deadening.(Which is also why journalism has always felt like such a terrific fit. It’s life-as-classroom.)
I have very mixed feelings about learning away from a school and classroom and campus. Yes, online learning is democratic.
But I think we also need to learn how to defend your ideas in public, that little knot of fear in your belly before you speak out in front of a room full of smart fellow students. You need to work face to face. You need to see how ideas play out in person.
And I loved the campus and its beauty and history and the clubs and activities I took part in at U of T, and my equally demanding and passionate profs at NYSID at their charming Upper East Side building. I was terrified there when, as we all had to in our Color class, I presented my designs to a room full of fellow students (just as we would have to with clients in the real world.)
But I managed to score an “A” (yay!) from the very tough professor. It still remains one of my proudest moments.
Yesterday’s New York Times ran this piece arguing in favor of getting a college degree, although I completely disagree — with plenty of anecdotal evidence to back me — that cashiers and clerks with a college degree earn more. In my time at The North Face, (the subject of my new memoir of working retail, “Malled“), I didn’t see this among our college-educated staff, nor have the many emails I’ve received since then from fellow associates, current and former, suggested higher earnings elsewhere.
Here’s an interesting essay from an Australian university.
Theoretically, tertiary study could become an opportunity to choose your own adventure. Innovative universities might form select international consortiums that would allow students to tailor degrees; with on-campus stints in Sydney, London and Beijing, for example, and a huge array of subjects offered on-campus or online from the entire list of combined course resources.
Yet universities jealously guard their individual reputations and their place on the competitive, global-rankings ladder. Everyone knows all degrees are not equal; their value depends on the reputation, history and standing of the university that confers them.
For individual institutions, with their campuses physically anchored in one place and their budgets built around the face-to-face delivery of core programs, its likely to be a very complex way forward.
At the same time, the internet is facilitating the entry of private players into the local and international education market, some of which will compete with universities for paying students.
Postgraduates, in particular, want access to experts from the professions and industries they aspire to join.
So when a group of globally renowned, private-sector achievers offers user-pay courses online, for example, which way will future students go?
Did you enjoy college?
What did you study and why?
Would you do it differently today?