My Rebuttal to “UnCollege”

I read an article in the New York Times about a 20-year-old who created “UnCollege.” Mr. Stephens is suggesting that more people skip out on college, and he gives a variety of reasons. He rebuts the top reasons to go to college…so my rebuttal is a rebuttal to a rebuttal.

I will give the reasons TO go to college, as cited by the NYT, I will highlight Mr. Stephens’ rebuttal and then write my rebuttal.

Reason 1: Learning in a rigorous, supported educational environment

“What you learn in college is generally the same skill set that you learn in a traditional school environment,” he said. “You learn how to follow directions, meet deadlines and memorize facts.”

“If you want to learn, college is the last place you should go,” Mr. Stephens said. “A lot of learning isn’t happening on college campuses.”

His ideal is self-directed education forged on the principles of project-based learning, perhaps with the guidance of mentors.

While, I may agree with him that colleges DO fail in some regard, there is much learning on college campuses. Colleges do play an important role in education. Not everyone is “self-directed” in educating themselves. Not everyone can direct themselves, I would even venture to say that the majority of people do need to follow directions and meet deadlines.

I do think that colleges/universities should adjust to the times and sort of make a shift in the way education is done. I am not a fan of tests. I like papers. I like to research things. That is how you learn things. You also learn from superiors as well as your peers. That is what the college classroom provides. Now, if the primary and secondary schools did THEIR job, maybe college could look a little differently.

For every Dale J. Stephens, for every Mark Zuckerberg, there are thousands of people who need college to develop skills and knowledge. I have been learning in the college setting for several years (4.5 years of undergrad, 2 years of grad school, now another year of grad school with another year to go). I have been learning the whole time. That being said, I do believe the education within those 7+ years could be better, that’s why I work in higher education. It needs to be better. We need to do a better job of preparing people for the “real world.” Which, I believe higher education did at one time.

Reason 2: Socializing and developing a network of friends and contacts

“You might end up limiting yourself if you only socialize with people on your dorm floor and in your classes,” he said. Campus demographics might be diverse, he said, but “people are still there for the same reason.” In contrast, he said, unschooling has allowed him to actively seek opportunities to meet people who travel different walks in life.

As for the value of making connections in college to nurture a professional network, people are increasingly using social media resources like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to make connections, Mr. Stephens said.

Maybe his experience was different than mine, which it was…but I definitely was not limited ONE BIT in socializing with people in college. I went to a school of roughly 1,200. My first graduate school had an enrollment of roughly 750. My second graduate school had an enrollment of roughly 1,100. I am a small school fan, as you can see. I would venture to say that larger schools DO limit socialization since it’s so large and hard to really connect with people if you don’t see them that often.

I have friends and contacts from all three of my schools — I could even say four since I transferred in undergrad (hated the first school, but still have some good friends from my time there). I have made more friends and contacts in school than I have anywhere else. I was in the workforce for 1.5 years before I went to grad school and I have very few contacts from that.

The social media thing is very overrated in “meeting” people. Twitter and Facebook especially. Maybe LinkedIn, I am new to it and have yet to connect with anyone that I am not already connected with. I am, and most people should be, leery of those anonymous contacts made over Twitter and Facebook (or any other internet source).

Reason 3: Status

“I think that’s the most valid reason to go to college,” Mr. Stephens allowed. “If you can go to a top school, by all means, go. It doesn’t mean that you need to finish.” A semester or two may be all you need, he said, to gain the advantages associated with the school’s name brand.

There should always be an asterisk by “top school” when referring to colleges. Yes, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, St. Andrews, etc. etc. etc. are top schools. But there are sooooooooo many GOOD schools throughout the United States and world. Heck, even the University of Phoenix has its place…yes, I said it even though I am not a fan of it.

I think status is vastly overrated compared to the connections and hard work that is (and should be) put into the academic successes one may have. You go to school, you do your work, you meet people, and that will weigh in MUCH more than “status,” in my opinion. In the end, the connections will get you where you want to go. That could be connections at ANY school. Heck, in our conference, there’s an engineering school that is tremendous and MANY people haven’t heard of it. Graduates from there will be getting jobs directly out of college, hired by alum of the same school…it’s not Harvard or Yale. Is that considered status? I don’t think so, it’s knowing that the school produces good people and those people will “give back” to the school by continuing to hire more good people. Those good people probably would never be where they are by “self-directed education.”

Reason 4: Self-discovery

Many college graduates believe that they discovered themselves in their years on campus. But Mr. Stephens said the typical student’s lack of real responsibility, coupled with an emphasis on rote memorization and test taking, hampers true personal growth.

“College is a sandbox that gives you a false sense of reality,” he said. “It’s much more beneficial to learn what it means to direct your own life.” Learners are better off spending early adulthood developing self-reliance, he said.

Self-discovery might best be achieved doing something constructive, he argued, like creating a start-up.

I am in the category that college led me to where I am today. Without college, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discover who I am and what I wanted to do with my life. The opportunities I had in college are things I’ll never forget. I never had those opportunities where I grew up. There are soooooooo many people in this country who identify more with me than with Mr. Stephens — in my opinion. While I was always a “go-getter,” I had no idea where life was going to take me until I was almost out of school.

Again, the Zuckerberg’s and Stephens’ are few and far between. It is also harder NOW to become successful without having some sort of financial backing. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs come out and be THAT successful. Can Zuckerberg even be in that category? Well, that “status” of Ivy League education didn’t hurt anything…I am sure. It’s highly debatable too in whether Zuckerberg and Facebook would even be in existence if Harvard wasn’t there for him. Maybe someone else would be attributed to creating Facebook?

Reason 5: Attaining a marketable degree and developing earning potential

Statistics show that college graduation correlates positively with economic factors like lower rates of unemployment and higher earnings.

The key factor may be not the degree itself but the degree earner, Mr. Stephens contended. “It’s not that college creates success,” he said. “It’s that smart and motivated people in our society tend to go to college. I bet if you took those smart and motivated people and put them out into the work force, they would earn more than other people.”

He believes that typical college coursework is largely divorced from reality: “Taking a psychology course doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to work as a psychologist.” Better to observe, shadow and perhaps intern with professionals, he said, noting that coursework or a degree may be required to enter a profession or gain licensing.

In the end, perhaps the point that Mr. Stephens most wanted to make is that even those who opt for college should reflect on their goals and make good, clear-eyed decisions. “Understand why you’re going so you can make the most of your experience. Be honest about it,” he said.

The last quoted paragraph is something I definitely agree with Mr. Stephens on. Not everyone should be going to college. It’s not for everyone. Just like ditch digging isn’t for everyone. Factory work isn’t for everyone. Coaching isn’t for everyone. Coach and I were just talking about how too highly accessible higher education has become. You can turn around and get a degree from any random institution. It’s almost too easy, especially when people make uneducated decisions on going to college. Be smart. Have some goals. Make good decisions. That’s easy to say coming from my family’s background, not many can say the same thing these days — more people come from broken households than any other time in the history of this country.

In regards to the typical college coursework, I do agree that it can be better. But there is a lot of validity in how and what psychologists learn. My wife graduated with an elementary education…there are some valid things she learned but there are also rather juvenile things that went on. My first Master’s had some valuables and had other worthless things. There’s good and bad to EVERYTHING. Heck, one of these days we may hear how bad water is to drink…

One thing I learned is “no education is a bad education.” Take a look at the lesser educated areas in your country, state, city/town, and community…what’s going on there? It’s depressed. It’s distressed. It’s often hopeless. I came from those areas. Being in the educational ranks, it is important to learn and teach. Yes, it can be “self-directed” but we are not in a world where most people are “self-directed.” Nor are we going to be. There are some here and there…good for them! But those people are also making a living off of telling people, “follow me (i.e., pay me) and I’ll show you how to be self-directed.” They want to make a buck off of it.

Not everyone gets the benefit of receiving a grant, fund, award, or other hand-out to achieve what they want. More people have become “self-directed” through achieving various educational levels. A lot of these things empower people because they are around others who are empowering.

To wrap it up, all education levels play an important role in learning and teaching. Could it be better? YES! Is it perfect? NO! But, there’s only one way to get it better…be a part of the change. Rally for change. I sound like the 2008 election don’t I? I wouldn’t be in higher education and soccer if I didn’t think that I could do some things to change how things are going. If there’s a problem…find a solution, be a solution. No education is a bad education. Learning should never cease. Use every opportunity to learn that you can. Utilize the educational methods that are already present. Just help make things better.

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  1. Pingback: College « ponchat

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