Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Unthinkable

Can you guess what word comes to my mind when reading this recent piece by NPR, "Poll: Prestigious Colleges Won't Make You Happier In Life Or Work"?

Yes; EVERGREEN! Great job, people!

NPR writes:
The graduate survey released Tuesday suggests the factors that should be guiding college decisions are not selectivity or prestige, but cost of attendance, great teaching and deep learning, in that order.
That's because graduates who said they had a "mentor who encouraged my hopes and dreams," "professors who cared about me" and at least one prof who "made me excited about learning" are three times more likely to be thriving and twice as likely to be engaged at work. In a similar vein, grads who did long-term projects and internships and were heavily into extracurriculars are twice as likely to be engaged in their careers today.

College debt also has a big impact, on the negative side. Only 2 percent of those with $20,000 to $40,000 in undergraduate loans reported they were "thriving." That's pretty troubling, since $29,400 is the national average for the 7 in 10 students who borrow. ­

Gallup and Purdue hope to use these and future surveys to help colleges better focus on outcomes, and to identify "outlier" colleges that are doing a great job delivering quality experiences for an affordable price.

In the meantime, the take-home message for students is clear, says Brandon Busteed, who leads Gallup's education work: "If you can go to Podunk U debt free vs. Harvard for $100,000, go to Podunk. And concentrate on what you do when you get there."

The Evergreen State College is exactly the kind of "outlier" this study is suggesting students seriously consider because it is both affordable and the kind of place where the professors care about you - I mean really care - and will make you excited to learn - I mean really excited. Meaningful, stimulating engagement with deeply committed and talented professors was my experience through and through at Evergreen. I am still in touch with many of my old teachers, one of which has become a life long mentor and whose confidence in me continues to serve as a lifeline.

Undoubtedly though, highly selective, expensive colleges that don't guarantee long-term life satisfaction DO guarantee one thing: access to prestige networks and proximity to institutionalized power. If your idea of success complements the status quo, then sure, Harvard is the place for you and your trust fund. 

(Disclaimer: I hyperlink to TED Talks fully aware that TED Talks are the "successful" person's coming of age story and that it's fucking annoying. Deal with it.)

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