College (Un)Bound Review: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting Grad School

College (Un)Bound by Jeffrey J. Selingo is a respected journalist’s look at the state of higher education, including how it arrived at its current situation, innovative developments, and strategies for the future. Selingo nicknames the period from 1999 to 2009 as “the Lost Decade” for higher education. As a new professional in the field of higher education, Selingo’s words were alternately depressing and encouraging; but always provocative.

Two major themes running through the book are the cost of education and technology. On the topic of cost, Selingo describes the factors that have led to the ever-increasing price of higher education and ballooning student loan debt. Higher education is one of a few industries, along with fine arts, that does not have much wiggle room when it comes to cutting costs. It is difficult to make education more efficient by mass production or machinery, just as it is difficult for a ballet company to cut costs by replacing ballerinas with robots. The costs of instruction remain mostly the same over time, while other costs—buildings, utilities, insurance, amenities and services, technology—increase the overall cost of college. The college raises tuition accordingly, but then offers massive discount rates to attract students. Students and their families, meanwhile, are able to take out loans to cover the rest of the cost. A college education is seen as essential in the job market.

Colleges serve as the gatekeepers of credentials—whether the credential is a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, or certificate. Job-seekers in today’s world are encouraged to have a degree on their resume and are hard-pressed to find a job without some sort of credential. This has led to higher education becoming a necessary step on the ladder to a middle class job. Add to this the cultural norm of going to college after high school and the availability of student loans paired with discount rates on tuition. Higher education appears affordable to students on the front end, and with a degree as the ticket to the workforce, more and more students are starting college. However, graduation is just one possible outcome of the college experience. Many students don’t finish a degree, while many more graduate with huge amounts of debt.

With colleges reaching the boundaries of tuition discounts, the states unable to put much money toward public institutions, and students and families increasingly resistant to the large amount of debt, other options are starting to emerge. Selingo notes a variety of new technologies and companies that are finding ways to offer education for free or very cheap. Not all of these options result in credits that could transfer into a credential, but some do. Selingo names these “unbundled” options, comparing them to the choose-your-own-amenities service offered by airlines. As students become more likely to transfer institutions, even multiple times, they can pick and choose what classes they want at particular colleges.

Beyond the typical transfer credits, MOOCs have gained a lot of attention in the media. While MOOCs are not yet able to give credit that transfers to an institution, it is quite possible that in the future students will be able to take a MOOC and count it toward their credential in some form. Hybrid and online courses are also popping up at more brick-and-mortar colleges, so that students living on campus might be taking some classes in a classroom and others online, in their dorm. With educational technology improving, these classes will become better quality. Flipping the classroom, or using out-of-class time to watch a video lecture while using in-class-time for problem-solving homework and discussion, will also be useful in improving hybrid courses.

After reading about these changes in cost and technology that will likely shift the paradigms of higher education in the coming years, I felt like many students probably feel. I’ve done all this work, and have all this debt, and there’s not a job at the end of it?! If higher education is unaffordable and the future is in learning through technology, I may have made a poor choice in going to graduate school for higher education. However, I believe there is still a (big) place for traditional, face-to-face, brick-and-mortar higher education. Selingo admits this as well, particularly in regards to traditionally-aged college students who need the college experience to help them mature as well as to learn. Cutting edge technologies are just that; cutting edge. Higher education will be slow to respond, so even though many innovative options are emerging, the conventional campus will persist. And it will persist not only out of tradition or stubbornness, but because it offers a version of higher education that students will still desire and benefit from.

I personally am excited about a future career in higher ed, working with students who are coming to college at such a transformative time in their lives. The potential impact of a traditional college experience on students can go much beyond a diploma and debt. Rather, students who seek it will find college to be a time of learning, growing pains, and equipping for the future.

What I’m Into: June 2013 Edition (Link-up with Hopeful Leigh)

Linking up again with Hopeful Leigh

In June, summer got into full swing–which for me, meant lots of time outdoors, spontaneous travels, garden adventures, and a trip to Costa Rica with my family to see my sister. While I’ve still been reading a lot (trying hard catch up at 52 in 52) the screen time has been minimal, which is a welcome change. Here’s what I’ve been into:

Books:

  • Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. This is fantastic. Go buy it and read it. Now. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Shauna’s writing and I’ve probably referred them to her blog or books multiple times. Bread and Wine is essentially a food memoir/spiritual memoir rolled into one, with recipes. By one of my favorite authors. So it’s no surprise I loved it. But this is why you might love it: Shauna writes with such an easy, conversational style that you feel like you know her, and have sat down at her table for meals or coffee to chat about life. She is an excellent story-teller who gets her point across through stories, rather than just telling you the point. Shauna holds a wonderful balance between the bitter and sweet parts of life (check out another of her books, Bittersweet) and is honest about the messiness, the life-y-ness, of life. I feel like I’ve joined her with her family and friends at her table and been encouraged by them. Also, the recipes look amazing and are very easy to follow; plus most are gluten-free. So far I’ve only tried the risotto, which was an experience in itself, but next up are Annette’s Enchiladas and the Blueberry Crisp.
  • Continuing on the food writing, Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone was another on my reading list after I heard about it at Jubilee 2013. I was so excited for it because a look at the table of contents showed that it would cover topics from our relationship with food and obsession with diets to the value of eating together to the ethics of how our food is grown and comes to us–all of which are things I find fascinating. In the back she includes some further reading lists which can point you on towards books on just one of those topics. Eat With Joy is definitely a more straight-foward read than Bread and Wine but I appreciate the more academic tone and culmination of her research. It’s a great read for someone looking to get a basic overview of how people relate to food and why it matters. It also includes recipes, which look simple and tasty, and table prayers which I am excited to start using.
  • Other books I read: Costa Rica Culture Smart, Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, and still chugging along in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez. That one is hefty but so, so good. I thought I would have to force myself to keep reading this church history tome but it’s rather exciting and really helpful to get an idea of what happened in the Church from the Reformation to present-day.

I also developed a minor obsession with rhubarb during June. Typically a spring thing, the “pie plant” as it is also known will grow into June and even July, so I just kept pulling it and chopping it and baking it and cooking it and….I made rhubarb pie, rhubarb viniagrette, even rhubarbeque chicken pizza. Yeah. That last one tasted amazing and I came up with it myself! And I tweaked and perfected the pie recipe till it was to my liking. 

Also on the food front, but in Costa Rica: We had SO MUCH delicious, fresh pineapple. I was beside myself. And a variety of forms of rice and beans: casados (meals of rice, beans, choice of meat, and salad), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp), gallo pinto (breakfast rice and beans, mixed together and seasoned). Oh, and ceviche, a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, which is eaten with chips. Fantastic.

Oh yeah, I went to Costa Rica! My parents and I made the international trek (their first ever!) to spend some time with my sister, who lives on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It was bizarre to combine family vacation with international travel, but a very good trip. We spent a bit of time in the capital, San Jose, and also visited Tenorio National Park to see a waterfall and blue lagoon and Arenal Volcano, which is, as it sounds, a volcano. I especially enjoyed driving through the mountain countryside on our way to and from the national parks. We also saw howler monkeys, which would be more aptly named barking monkeys, and many small crabs and lizards. And a giant ceiba tree–which, I had to admit, seemed bigger than the sequoia trees in my beloved Yosemite.

I was also able to do a last-minute trip with my dear friend to her family’s farmhouse in northwestern Illinois and another trip to Indiana to see college friends, one of whom just returned from a year in Papua New Guinea. So great to see them!!

So to sum up, I basically spent June cooking, eating, reading, gardening, and traveling. Is it any wonder that I’m loving this summer?

What I’m Into: May 2013 (link up with Hopeful Leigh)

This month I’m starting what will hopefully be a continual practice of taking some time to pay attention to, well, what’s got my attention. New finds in music, what I’m reading, TV shows or movies that I’ve seen, etc. Linking up with Hopeful Leigh.

What I'm Into

May has been a bit of a crazy month: finishing up my first year of grad school, wrapping up work at my assistantship for the summer, getting ready to move to a farm for a summer internship, then my summer plans falling through and moving home to my parents’ house instead. But in the midst of that craziness, these are a few things I’ve been loving.

Books:

I finished off the hefty volume The Shaping of American Higher Education by Cohen and Kisker for my History of Higher Education class. Lengthy but generally pretty interesting and informative.

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Another higher ed read was The Idea of a Christian College by Arthur Holmes. Holmes taught at Wheaton College, and this short book lays out a great foundation for why a Christian liberal arts college is important. Lots of really thought-provoking pieces; I read through it quickly for a book discussion, but am looking forward to reading through it slower and really chewing over some parts.

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Now that’s school’s out for the summer, I have a massive summer reading list. So far I’ve finished two:

Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard Mouw. Kuyper is the father of the Dutch Reformed tradition, which Geneva College comes from. People reference Kuyper frequently, and I never heard of him till this past year, so I decided it was time to brush up. This is not exactly biography so much as a short summary of Kuyper’s theology and philosophy, followed by some applications for today. Nice intro to Kuyper. I’m still confused about all the strains of Reformed and Calvinist traditions out there.

Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs. I loved this memoir! Susan Isaacs is an actor/comedian/writer who tells the story of how God torched her life and she took him to marriage counseling. I’ve read part of it before, but couldn’t get through the parts that felt painfully similar to my own story (the torching part, not the actor/comedian part) so it got shoved under the far corner of my mattress for awhile. But I’m glad to have reread it and finished it this time. A great book for anyone who wrestles with or gets angry with God, and for those who know them. (So basically anyone–just read it.)

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Next up on the summer reading list: Prototype by Jonathan Martin, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson, Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone, and continuing in The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez.

 

Music:

This month I’ve been loving The Tallest Man On Earth and The Wailin’ Jennys. I love the sound of both–I would place it somewhere in the folk genre, but at any rate they are characterized by unique, wistful vocals and a sweet variety of instruments accompanying. TTMOE is particularly clever in some of the lyrics; check out King of Spain and The Gardener for starters. A friend turned me on to The Wailin’ Jennys’ album “40 Days.” Full of great songs, and I’ve branched out from there.

TV:

I am absolutely captivated by Scandal! Usually I stick to comedies, and lawyer shows or political thrillers don’t interest me at all. But somehow I got in on the first few shows of Scandal, and I am hooked. Every episode is full of plot twists and character development, and leaves me hanging and waiting on the edge of my sofa for the next week’s episode. Definitely check it out. Season 2 just finished but Season 1 is on Netflix.

Other things I love:

Super new friends in Beaver Falls, and a girls’ Disney night. (Can you believe I hadn’t seen The Karate Kid before?!)

Getting to play with my dog Buddy again. So happy!

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Being in rural Illinois again. I love going for walks out in the country and having people in cars stop to talk to me in the middle of the road: friends, neighbors, strangers, even a former piano student who I haven’t seen in years. Gotta love the country life!