Put the “Higher” Back in “Higher Education”

A 62-year old is laid off after an entire career with the same company. As part of his severance he is given modern job search training. The biggest piece of advice? “Find the keywords that the prospective employer is looking for and type them in white around the border of your resume. People won’t see it, but the computer that’s scanning your resume will.”

One of the best students I ever worked with came to my office asking for help on a homework problem that he already had the solution to. When I asked why he needed my help he told me that he copied the solution from the internet so that he wouldn’t lose any points, but now he wants to actually understand it.

A student didn’t turn in a single assignment all semester, and got a failing grade on the final exam. Then asked me for a passing grade because it was his birthday. He made sure to send me proof that it really was his birthday.

Here’s my question: what have we done!?

What happened to leather arm chairs and tweed jackets and late-night scholarly debates in the quad? We’ve traded the real thing for a cheap imitation. College used to look like this:

Now it looks like this:

  • We used to seek careers where we could grow and make a genuine impact. Now we’re trying to trick a computer into filtering our resume to the top of the stack.
  • We used to struggle with topics because they were difficult, and feel the amazing rush of pride when we finally figured it out. Now we transcribe the solution manual that we downloaded from the internet so that we’re sure we don’t lose any points.
  • We used to lean in and work hard, and the idea of being the exception to a rule was appalling. Now we expect a passing grade if we send an email with a good enough story.

Are you tired of it? I am.

Our world was built by hard working, sweaty brains. Tinkerers who couldn’t stop trying to make things better. Not a group of people who sought certification above learning, or tricking someone into hiring them above actually finding a place they fit.

What happened to the college of the movies? What happened to the strict, difficult professor who showed how much she cared by pushing her students to find the absolute best in themselves? What happened to the camaraderie of friends and colleagues battling a difficult problem on a chalk board into the late hours of the night? What happened to pursuing the ideal that colleges were founded on: that an idea can change a life?

Why is everything we do just a weak attempt at gaming the system into giving us the points we need to get a good grade?

If you’re looking for more, you aren’t alone.

More importantly, it’s not your fault. The environment has changed. But you don’t have to sink to the lowest common denominator.

I was where you are. It took me 9 years to figure it out, but the last three of my 12-year college experience were pretty magical. Yours can be too. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can choose to grow as an intellectual.

Here’s a teaser:

The problem is that we’ve become outcome-focused instead of process-focused.

We don’t grapple with hard ideas, we seek the right answer. We don’t explore our thoughts on a topic, we write a paper that will get us an “A.” We don’t tinker in lab classes, we try to check the boxes in the procedure as fast as possible so we can leave. We don’t explore what it means to major in something, we look up salaries and conventional wisdom on the internet and then seek the certification of a diploma.

Join the Intentional Academy, and we can start to put the “Higher” back in “Higher Education”. Fill out the form at the top of this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *