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Opinion: Issues I See In Higher Education

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Higher Education is the greatest, worst, best, most awesome, sometimes terrible thing I know. Take that as you will. We all come to college with our own baggage, but so do the institutions. Please bear in mind that the following are my own opinions and do not reflect any institutions I am a part of. The following are some of the key issues I see facing Higher Education and it’s future.

 

1. Veterans. I will not waste anyone’s time complaining about the Department of Veterans Affairs, they know they have problems. But there are a lot of us. The United States has been at war since 2001. Sure, not so much in recent years, but now there are millions of Veterans returning to civilian life and using that juicy, sweet, Post-9/11 GI Bill.

I am very fortunate in that many of my military credits transferred to a STEM program at Community College of Vermont, allowing me to receive my Associates in just a year. While attending a Graduate Research Colloquium at Michigan State University, I saw just how brutal it can be for others.

In a section about Student Support & Advocacy, a presentation titled “Supporting Student Veterans Career Development” gave me some shocking statistics. Most colleges take military college-level credits and transfer them in as “Life Experience” or “Military Experience Credits.” Further, many veterans do not have this process thoroughly explained to them, if at all. I can tell you right now, if my credits for atmospheric physics or synoptic weather had been cut in half (I had 50+ college credits before stepping into a civilian classroom) or downgraded to “Military Experience” I would have LOST MY SHIT.

That aside, the millions of veterans making use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill also need some additional support. The Graduate Research Colloquium at Michigan State University also showed the need to have adequate staff and support resources for veterans on college campuses. The most effective method of providing this support was revealed to be peer support through outreach programs on campus and personal connections with other veterans.

The takeaway: Higher Education needs to increase its awareness about how to transition veterans from service to the classroom, change how credits transfer and create clear standards, and set up peer programs for veterans. There are too many veterans using the GI Bill right now for this to not be a priority for colleges. It is basically free money for higher educational institutions – who better to pay tuition than the Federal Government? Unlike student loans, the money is real and goes directly to the student’s tuition. Uncle Sam is a good source of income for any college.

 

2. Retention and Graduation Rates: College costs a lot of money. It is also a decision we force on 17 and 18 year olds. At these young ages, before they can drink, while they have probably never worked full-time, maybe have never even voted – we ask them to make a serious financial decision.

Is it any surprise that 17 and 18 year olds may not be ready for such a big decision? Enter retention rates, which vary from institution to institution. Every college struggles in some way with student retention, especially with first year students. Retention is nationally about 77% for first-year students. Not too bad, right? Except that potentially that remaining 23% may now have a full year’s tuition, room, and board in student loans and nothing to show for it.

Nothing. Zip. Nada. It doesn’t matter if you took intro to psychology and underwater basket weaving while reading John Steinbeck. If that college just was not right for you, or you could not afford it, or maybe you just were not ready for it you’re stuck with the debt. Now we could go into solutions on fixing this, but I’m just here to highlight the issues.

It gets even worse. For some institutions the graduation rate (as I learned at the Graduate Research Colloquium at MSU) from start of degree to finish at four-year institutions is a  nice, round, 48%.

The takeaway: Maybe we shouldn’t rush a 17 year old who can barely drive, take care of themselves, or whatever into college unless we’re sure they’re ready for it. There was a time in America where a High School diploma meant something. For all of our advances in education we’re not doing the best we could in K-12 education, so is it any surprise that college may not be the best option for everyone? Even if we improve our public education system, I’m all in favor of slowing down the rat race.

Let kids take a year or two off, working and getting life experience, before throwing them into higher education institutions. They’re in unfamiliar environments, with strangers, doing course work  that the public education system probably didn’t even prepare them for, oh, and taking on serious financial risk. When they graduate, they better have a full-time job that they are probably wholly unprepared for.

 

3. Diversity. Oh boy, here we go. Buzzwords ahead! It’s a big topic for pedological writing and study in higher education. Did you know that Southern Vermont College is a really diverse school? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. Probably because to us, diversity is about more than skin color. Millennials in particular have shifted the discussion on diversity away from just race and ethnicity, which while it’s important, is not all-encompassing anymore. We care more about intellectual differences and teamwork than previous generations.

The problem in higher education, then? We’re not in charge yet. We’re just now coming into positions of power to make effective change on college campuses nationwide. Makes sense, as even the oldest “Millennials” are maybe in their mid-thirties by now. We’re just now getting our turn at the helm of the ship.

The takeaway: Hey, draw your own conclusions, kid. You’ll be in charge soon.

 

It’s not completely broken, but there’s a lot to fix with higher education as it exists now. A lot of the discussion above is tangentially related to other socio-economic issues that hopefully, we as a nation, can address in the near future. As it stands right now, these three issues jumped out at me. I’m sure we can all compile a nice long list of why higher education sucks if we scrape our elbows enough. If you have some ideas and you think you need a voice here at TLG, email me at jeichorst@svc.edu.

 

Copyright © Judd Ike Eichorst (2017) All Rights Reserved.

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