Higher education should serve entire families, not just students
Higher education currently has a lot of problems. He never had more opportunities. The biggest and most daring of these is the opportunity to expand the mission of higher education from exclusive and specialized bastion status for graduation to a broadly inclusive and holistic educational community. What if “college” meant serving entire families and communities rather than individual students? What if the unit of analysis and the focus of the service shifted from degree-seeking students to including their families and communities in various ways? What if you could have both exclusivity and inclusiveness in the same strategy by expanding our definitions of “education” and “students”? This is the kind of provocative thinking that higher education desperately needs right now.
A university degree is the ticket to social mobility. This is the story we have all been attached to for years. It is a story focused on the context of each student. That is to say that the benefit of social mobility goes to the individual who receives the diploma. And in that context, it’s an essentially true story. Assuming that a graduate student (only 58% who start finishing in 6 years), ends up in paid employment (41% of young graduates have jobs that do not require a diploma) and without significant student debt (11% of graduates between 1990 and 2014 had over $ 50,000 in student loan debt, which was linked to poorer overall health and wellness outcomes) – the story is true. But as noble and inspiring as the objective is, to improve the social mobility of graduates may not be enough to lift higher education out of its current steady decline.
Higher education suffers rapid decline in public confidence due to rising tuition prices, doubts about graduates’ readiness for work and the relevance of what is taught, college admissions scandals and a rapidly growing partisan divide over its value and his goal. The result of all this was 10 consecutive years of declining enrollment and the potential threat that these declines will continue for at least 10 years. The physical and mental images of the “ college ” remain those of ivory walls, doors and towers – images associated with privilege and elitism (both socio-economic and educational) at a time when a movement populist is alive and well in the United States. Some argue that the populist movement was fueled, in part, by higher education itself.
Michael J. Sandel, the great political philosopher, professor and author of Harvard has just published a new book, “The Tyranny of Merit”, which offers a new and relevant vision of the role of meritocracy in populism. He argues that meritocracy generates pride among the winners while imposing harsh judgment on those who remain. He suggests that the “last acceptable prejudice” is that of those who are formally educated versus those who are not. And one of the institutions that, in his sights, is the source of this meritocratic pride is higher education – and in particular elite higher education, the institutions that many colleges and universities strive to nurture. look more like. As he points out, in the Ivy League there are more students from families in the top 1% of the income scale than students from all families in the bottom 50% combined.
In another recent book, “Moving Up Without Losing Your Way,” author Jennifer Morton brilliantly opens our eyes to what she calls the ethical costs of upward mobility. She takes both a philosophical and a practical look at first-generation students, arguing that while the college helps move them forward individually, it also comes at the cost of leaving their families and communities behind in various ways. Her own story as a first generation student growing up in Peru and receiving a scholarship to an American university paints a typical portrait of students who must physically and psychologically leave their families and communities in order to pursue a degree that ultimately propels them into a new company. -an economic status which favors this distance.
For anyone in higher education who hasn’t read these books, these are must read. I had never thought deeply about either of their arguments until now. But the notions that higher education may contribute more to the divide in American society than bridge it, and that higher education’s most fundamental value proposition of social mobility also has unintended consequences are new perspectives that leave us with an inescapable sense of responsibility and an urgent call to action. So where do these perspectives take us in terms of a reactive strategy for higher education? It is both an opportunity and a mandate for higher education to broaden its definitions of who and how it serves.
What does it mean for higher education to move from being students in the service of students to educating families and entire communities? Imagine a first generation student who gets a scholarship at a top university. This student leaves her home and goes to school hundreds of kilometers away. Her family is enthusiastic about her and supports her. Deep down, they know she will be successful, but that success may ultimately mean that they will lose her from the tight-knit family they have always been. In today’s higher education, this student’s family has virtually no connection to their daughter’s college or experience there. As much as they recognize it as a blessing to her, the university becomes something that takes her away from them as well.
But what if part of this college student’s admission requirements came with a big hug from all of her family? What if the college offered to provide English language learning for its parents through their ESL classes which are now delivered live online? What if students at this university, as part of their experiential learning projects, were to do 50 hours of tutoring for high school students from underserved communities and its younger sister was directly included? What if his older brother had the opportunity to enroll in some of the booming industry-recognized certificate and training programs offered by their school of continuing and adult education? What if everyone in the family had a pass to audit one of the conferences delivered on campus through an online platform?
What if the college’s health services office extended patient hours for family members through its new telehealth platform so that his grandfather and grandmother could get consultations every now and then? ? What if the university provided her family with a WiFi hotspot device that they can use at home while they are at university and that the student can use during winter and summer vacation? been back home once? Besides, why not send them a family pack of Chromebooks or iPads that the university is buying through a new discount program with Google and Apple and that the US Department of Education is supporting through a new law? College For Family Passed By Congress?
Also, what if this college expanded the idea of supporting families to support entire communities? What if they offered scholarships to a whole group of students from the same underserved community? What if they designate on-campus parking for people in the neighboring community who don’t have internet access to be able to use the college’s world-class WiFi network? What if this college dramatically expanded its family accommodation options to allow enrolled students to include another family member in their dormitory or apartment on campus? Perhaps they could offer family summer residency programs – when their dorms are otherwise empty – so that a student’s family members can live on campus with her while she takes classes. summer and enroll in various educational enrichment and training programs? Imagine…
Higher education doesn’t have to imagine that. All of this is quite doable. Some of these initiatives will certainly require time and money and compete with other priorities of the institution. But most are very inexpensive or free ideas that are mere extensions of college’s already sunk investments: online ESL classes with empty seats, inactive summer accommodations, additional traffic on the campus. college WiFi network, a device at a reduced price. purchases, opening online access to existing lectures given by professors already on the payroll, providing access to telehealth staff during off-peak hours for typical student traffic. Either way, the costs associated with these initiatives are pale compared to many of the investments colleges and universities are making in other areas.
Imagine what these types of movements would mean for the challenges Sandel and Morton launched around the pride of meritocracy and the ethical costs of social mobility. Imagine how these movements would resonate with and re-engage the growing critiques of higher education. Imagine how these efforts would move the needle on social mobility exponentially greater. Imagine how many former donors, foundations and companies would join this new vision and mission financially. Imagine it all. But don’t spend a lot of time figuring out how to get there. Take a step now and get there.