A Worthwhile Investment?

Lately, it seems that the average college graduates are not earning salaries high enough to justify their time at the university. We discussed the intricacies of the higher education system, but we did not fully discuss the economic mess that recent and future college graduates will have to deal with. For students who are not following an exact plan after earning their bachelor’s degrees (going through a health program like medical or pharmacy school), it can be difficult to find decent employment. Often, students take low-paying work to support themselves until they find something better, and then they do not find something else. Overall, the earnings of college graduates in the twenty-first century do not seem to justify the years of work and debt that students endure to earn their degrees.

In an article for The New York Times, writer Kevin Carey discusses the results of a 2015 government data release, regarding the earnings of students who recently graduated from universities in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the data showed that “students who enroll[ed] in wealthy, elite colleges earn[ed] more than those who d[id] not,” but for hundreds of other universities, community colleges, and cosmetology schools, “less than half of students” were earning at least $25,000 by the time they had been out of school for ten years.[1] What this says is that, economically and financially, higher education is not always paying off.

Slate writer Jordan Weissmann concludes similarly. He argues that many people pay for and attend college for one main reason: it is “a wonderfully profitable investment.”[2] With relative confidence, these students expect to earn more than their peers who have only high school diplomas, and many college graduates do earn more, but many earn almost the same. Weissmann writes that “researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York noted that the bottom 25 percent of college degree holders basically earn no more than the median worker who ended his or her education after high school.”[3] Weissmann included the graph below in his article.

nyfed_college_worth_it_2.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeWe must consider all of this cautiously, though. There are plenty of variables mixed into these numbers, such as personal intelligence and motivation, type of degree earned, initial socioeconomic status, etc., but the information is undoubtedly interesting. If students were not already questioning the economic validity of a college degree, they should. The intellectual and emotional transformations that some students experience because of their educations may offset a disappointing salary, but for the others, this dismal payoff is not worth it.

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Works Cited

Carey, Kevin. “Gaps in Earnings Stand Out in Release of College Data.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Weissmann, Jordan. “When College Grads Earn Like High School Grads.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 08 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016.

[1] Kevin Carey, Gaps in Earnings Stand Out in Release of College Data, 2015.

[2] Jordan Weissmann, When College Grads Earn Like High School Grads, 2014.

[3] Weissmann, When College Grads Earn Like High School Grads.

The World’s Knowledge

Existing in the world today is a plethora of knowledge, discoveries, research, cultures, and ideas. Many of these things such as crucially important historical documents, original pieces of art, literary works, and research are stored in museums and libraries all over the world. They are preserved so that current generations and future posterity can learn from them and analyze them, and because they are preserved, the knowledge that they hold is not lost. When asking the question of who should store and preserve the world’s knowledge, the brief answer is everyone. Of course, important documents and artifacts should be kept in public institutions, like museums and libraries, but across the globe, cultures exist and are carried on because people like you and me live in them and make the effort to cling to and share ideas.

As for who should have access to the world’s knowledge, the brief answer again is everyone. While some important government secrets might be best kept as secrets, medical and scientific research, cultural trends, stories, languages, music, and other aspects should be open. With the ubiquity of the internet and internet access, more people have access to more information than ever before, so it is not too far of a reach to say that everyone should be given the opportunity to learn and obtain information.

Lastly, who should bear the cost of preserving and sharing the world’s knowledge? This is especially difficult to say, as many different entities (governments, institutions, companies, people) have different types of information and their willingness to share what they have often depends on what they can earn in return for sharing it. I would argue that people in power have the responsibility of ensuring that the public is well educated and that people have access to most all information around the world. This is easier said than done, but as everyone has something to offer in regard to what they know and have experienced, and as sharing information is so easy, continuing to preserve and distribute what we know should not be too difficult an endeavor in the future.

Disruptive Innovation

When small companies create and offer products that are similar, cheaper, and more easily accessible than the products of large companies, these small companies are doing a great service to people who cannot obtain or pay for the services that the large companies are offering at higher prices. This is disruptive innovation, and it is basically synonymous with ‘change’ and ‘improvement.’ While these smaller companies begin markets for their products, the larger companies are forced to improve their merchandise in some way to justify the higher prices and prestige and to compete with the smaller companies, whose offerings are much more appealing to the average consumer. It all boils down to the fact that the consumer typically has the control and runs the market, so to appeal to the majority of consumers (and thus to earn their patronage) is to succeed in business, and that is exactly what disruptive innovation sets out to do.

An example of disruptive innovation in my life was the production of teeth-whitening strips. Though my parents never cared enough to have their teeth professionally whitened regularly, my mother went once in her life, and the bill was outrageous, so she did not go again. As I grew up, I began focusing on different parts of myself to criticize, and my teeth became the center of attention at some point. People in movies and on television typically had straight, white teeth, and they looked so appealing to me, so I begged my mother to take me for a whitening appointment, and I was always told ‘no’ because the procedure was ‘too expensive.’ I do not remember exactly when teeth-whitening strips were made available, but I remember my mother offering to help me use them when I was in middle school, and she began to use them every few weeks. People around me – friends, family members, strangers – were starting to use these white strips, and I have no doubt that professional teeth whitening took some sort of a nose-dive in popularity. Anymore, I only hear of people using these whitening strips to lighten the color of their teeth – not by making an appointment with a professional, but by leaning against their bathroom counters and pressing gel-like films over their incisors and then waiting for thirty minutes. It is all too easy and very popular because it is affordable and simple. I do not use them much anymore, as the hydrogen peroxide causes extreme sensitivity in my teeth, but I am glad that they are available, and I am a huge proponent of disruptive innovation, even though its name arouses negative connotations.

The Predominant Voice

Here at OU and many other large universities, the political, academic, and legal authority is held by many different groups of people, but who, precisely, should have the final say in issues regarding the following topics?

  • Hiring faculty
  • Creating/revising curriculum
  • Deciding undergraduate admission
  • Determining faculty workload
  • Making tenure decisions
  • Dealing with student misconduct

And ultimately, what voices should predominate the political and academic governance structure of a college? The administration of the university seems to hold most of the authority, and the decisions of this group of people are typically honored above others, but in regard to the specific topics listed above, aren’t there certain people who should be overseeing them?

With regard to hiring faculty, the respective colleges (College of Arts & Science/College of Engineering/etc.) should have the final say and should be given most of the authority in selecting, interviewing, and evaluating candidates. Let’s say that an impressive prospective faculty member is applying for a position in the Price College of Business. Who better to evaluate this person than the administrators and other faculty members within the Price College of Business? They are familiar with the expectations and successes of the college, and they will be working with this new person, so their opinions are most important.

When it comes to creating and revising curriculum, again, the individual colleges should be in charge of this, particularly the professors/instructors. They are the ones teaching day after day, interacting with and hearing the opinions of countless students, and they will ultimately know what is most effective and what will lead to academic success.

For deciding undergraduate admissions, the university administration is best capable of doing this. While evaluating learning patterns and identifying effective teaching methods comes more easily to individual colleges and their faculty members, deciding who to actually admit to the university is a decision best left with neutral administration. They have the university’s general statistics regarding previous years’ enrollment, student satisfaction, and they typically have more resources with which to use in determining who will thrive at the university and who will not.

In determining faculty workload and tenure decisions, the individual colleges and the university provost should have control. Individual colleges can allocate work to its faculty members, and when it comes to tenure, these faculty members will be evaluated (by the college under which they are employed) and this suggestion will be either accepted or declined by the provost.

Lastly, in dealing with student misconduct, the administration should have ultimate power. As this is a more general issue, it should be dealt with by a group of people that is relatively unaffiliated with specific branches of the university. If an issue arises specifically within one of the specific colleges (Someone plagiarizing within The College of Architecture, for instance), that college should be given the right to address an issue before sending it on to administration.

In terms of who should have ultimate authority, or whose voices should predominate, it is difficult to say. As evidenced above, there are many facets of a university that are best dealt with by only certain groups of people, and it seems as though there is not one particular person or group that should have more authority. My final thought is simply that people with little experience in higher education should not be given a lot of decision-making power. With little in their lives to reference and a lack of understanding (I firmly believe that lack of experience leads to lack of understanding), they cannot possibly know how to properly navigate the complexities of a university.

Life (Abridged)

Sometimes, very briefly, I forget that life (“real life”) outside of college will be much more volatile than the buffered life inside of college. I imagine myself completing my bachelor’s degree and going on to get a Master’s degree and possibly a PhD, and during these upcoming years of further schooling, I do not think that I will be exposed to the real world. During these years, I will continue to be a student, shielded by this identification that, for some reason, is often synonymous with not yet being established in life – An identification that seems to equate to a lack of experience in the world outside of a university or college. This is probably the case because it is true: traditional college students earning their bachelor’s degrees are typically very ignorant to the responsibilities and realities that lay just beyond the university dining hall. They (myself included) have not had the opportunity to experience real life yet, as they have spent most of their time within the relatively controlled environments of their college campuses. This is not effective, and in fact, this lack of exposure to the “adult world” may lead students to trouble in their transitions to employment.

Even as students develop independence as college freshmen, their gradual adaptations are tailored to their environments, which are the universities that they attend. Those who live on campus (particularly freshmen) could theoretically exist solely within campus limits, and some do. Food is provided and readily available (24-hour restaurants operate on OU’s campus), laundry can be done in the freshmen dorms, there are plenty of activities and clubs to participate in, and study areas are plentiful. A student’s entire life can be lived without ever leaving campus limits, and this has likely groomed at least some students to have warped perceptions of independence and self-sustenance.

During my first semester at OU, a typical day consisted of going to class, stuffing myself at OU’s Couch Cafeteria (home to a ridiculously wide array of unlimited food), doing a little laundry and homework, attending a club meeting, and passing out on my creaky, too-small dorm bed. I was unhealthy, inactive, and unaware that my world was very limited and that my life on OU’s campus was comparable to a rodent in its cage: restricted, controlled, and largely sheltered from the happenings of the outside world. Now, while I was not actually trapped, my point is that many students are experiencing an abridged version of real life on college campuses, and many of them probably know this and embrace it. It’s college. It’s not supposed to be like real life; in fact, it better not be. I want a few years of Level MEDIUM before beginning Level HARD. This is understandable, but surely there are ways to create a Level MEDIUM-HARD, so that students can be better prepared for life after graduation. At the moment, I am not sure how to accomplish this, and maybe it is impossible. College is not meant to simulate real life, but to prepare us for it.

We Are All Stardust

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As I am not a minority race in the United States, I feel shameful in trying to discuss racial discrimination and its prevalence. In my mind, my doing so is comparable to the offspring of Nazi soldiers attempting to describe the struggles of holocaust victims’ offspring. I simply have no credibility here because I have not faced the kind of discrimination that still plagues blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and even Indians in the United States. Further, as much as I believe that I put myself forward without judgment or prejudice, I will never know how deeply the views and actions of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and earlier ancestors have influenced me. Thus, I try every day to educate myself on other populations (in the U.S. and around the world), to slowly rid myself of ignorance and to ultimately become as understanding and transparent as I can be.

Chapter 1 of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists is a particularly unsettling example of current racism in the United States, as he explains that withdrawing support, resources, and opportunities from minority populations is the 21st century version of the blatant abuse that was occurring just 50 years ago. His writing emphasized to me that I have a responsibility to help stop this. With regard to inclusivity, I cannot cite any specific situations, but I am always open to meeting, working with, and making friends with people. If I have learned anything in my life, it is that people are valuable because of their character, and as I get to know people, they become more and more appealing because of their resilience, morals, intelligence, wit, and values. When my father passed away, I remember looking at his body and realizing that humans are nothing more than the intricacies of their minds. Our thoughts, our ideas, our dreams – they are our substance, abstract and incredible, able to exist only because because our bodies exist to house them. People invent, write, paint, design, study, and develop extraordinary technology all because of their brains, yet we judge and discriminate based on the houses of these brains.

In particular, it seems that people discriminate against certain races most when they do not have any personal connections to people of this race. And for this reason, I am so thankful that the University of Oklahoma provides plenty of organizations to connect students. In particular, OU Cousins has been the most amazing experience for me. It is an organization that pairs international students with OU students who are native to the United States. In doing so, each party develops a personal relationship with someone from a different background and consequently learns about the culture and life of the other student. My OU Cousin Xuelian is from China, and we bonded very quickly through the program. Because I came from a very uncultured home environment, meeting Xuelian and gaining an intimate perspective of her life stressed to me the importance of cultural awareness and tolerance.

Inclusivity will always be of the utmost importance to me, and as I continue with my college degree, I will continue to advocate for total equality and tolerance. One of my favorite quotes regarding race comes from famous scientist and writer Bill Nye. In this quotation from his commencement speech at Rutgers University, he emphasizes that race is just a social construct, a separation of people based on one of our most minute differences. He says,

“Along with the evidence of common sense, researchers have proven scientifically that humans are all one people. We’re a lot like dogs in that regard. If a Great Dane interacts (can we say interact?) with a Chihuahua, you get a dog. They’re all of the same species. Same with us. The color of our ancestors’ skin and ultimately my skin and your skin is a consequence of ultraviolet light, of latitude and climate. Despite our recent sad conflicts here in the U.S., there really is no such thing as race. We are one species — each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space.”

To me, this sums up the truth of race, and I hope that more people will begin to view it this way.

Financial Aid Based on Your Major?

 

 

So, the question is whether or not colleges like Harvard would give students more financial aid IF federal and state governments “capped their financial aid to students at the price for attending an in-state flagship university.” Well, in order to answer this, I had to look up “flagship university” because I had no idea what that meant. If you already knew what that meant, don’t laugh at me. Basically, a flagship university is “the most prominent public university of [a] state. It is usually the first public university that was established in the state and receives the most state support,” so the University of Oklahoma would be Oklahoma’s flagship university (What Is a Flagship University?). Honestly, I have no idea if schools like Harvard would cover the difference. Maybe they would want to maintain their selectivity, so by not helping more students with aid, they would be even more elite and coveted. Personally, I value the educational environment (the diversity and quality of students) over the way a university is perceived to the masses, so I would help out students, but I cannot speak60638250 for Harvard. The issue of financial aid extends pretty far, and it is complex. Should we have more rules for who can receive aid based on more strict criteria? Should a student’s major dictate the amount of monetary help they receive?

The second question prompts the idea of locking students into a major by determining their allotted financial aid based on their choices in majors. So, if someone picked petroleum engineering, his aid would be through the roof, but consequently, he would be “locked in,” and should he discover a predilection for poetry, well… he would be *ahem* S.O.L. So, my opinion on this is pretty obvious. No. Students’ aid should not be determined by their majors, simply because this is breeding grounds for deep dissatisfaction. I mean, at some point, students would realize which majors afforded them the most aid, and they’d dive into those areas of study whether or not they had even the slightest interest in them. With this decision “locked in,” those who truly could not connect to their field of study would probably become stressed and discontent, and then depressed. Are students allowed to still change majors in this system? I’ll assume that they can. Even with this possibility, many students would likely push themselves through something that they hated simply for the financial aid. I know plenty of people who are doing this for the monetary return from their starting job salaries (think most engineering majors). Basically, I’m incredibly bitter about all of this because paying for college is stressful. I know a few people who dropped out of OU because they could no longer afford it or because their grades had declined while they were trying to work full-time and complete school. Why do we have to tap dance, carve an intricate bust from marble, aKristen-Wiig-Help-Me-Im-Poor-In-Bridesmaids-Gifnd work ourselves to exhaustion just to earn a degree that is now being called “the new highschool diploma”? Okay, I’m probably getting off topic and into the rant side of things. I’ll calm down.

So, like I said, I don’t think that Harvard would “cover the difference” if financial aid was capped, but I won’t know for sure until this situation unfolds (if it ever does). Further, I do not think that aid should be based on a student’s choice of major. I can see the hopeful benefit in this, by trying to keep students headed down their chosen paths to ensure graduation and (hopefully) future success and stability, but I see too many problems, namely with student dissatisfaction and feeling trapped in something that they do not enjoy. For now, it seems like financial aid is working relatively cohesively? I don’t know enough to be sure on this either, but I haven’t heard too many complaints.

 

 

Works Cited

“What Is a Flagship University?” Do It Yourself College Rankings. N.p., 29 May 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

 

The Importance of Integrity

The topic of this week’s writing assignment immediately interested me, because before we even answer the question, we must first be in agreement that having virtue and good character is important in the quality of a person. I know, I know, what am I saying? Of course it’s important for people to have integrity, to be honest, and to be “good citizens,” but why? Well, it’s for the sake of civility and order and because that’s what perpetuates human existence, and that’s what we want. But what might happen if we regressed into a savage land where human rights were nonexistent and we were forced to live out a never ending rat race of deception, betrayal, power, lies, and precariousness? We do live in that kind of world, but at least in the United States there are laws and regulations to mitigate the intensity of it all, and because of these restrictions, being honest, having integrity, and abiding by rules are all considered to be survival qualities. They’re safer for all of us. By establishing a foundation of civility and sympathy and punishing bad behavior, we are attempting to preserve ourselves in large quantities, because let’s face it, if this became a truly dog-eat-dog world, our population would thin out rather quickly. So, it’s important to be good. I get it.

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In fact, it’s so important to us that we’ve created institutions all over the world in the name of human goodness and development: hospitals, research laboratories, charities, shelters, general businesses and companies, and universities. And this brings me to the point: How exactly are colleges and universities attempting to implement good values in their students? Education is probably the most effective avenue for implementing these values, as is seems to be the singular avenue on which so many people are traveling. So, what can universities and colleges do to impress upon their students the importance of these values? What are they doing?

From my perspective here at OU, it doesn’t seem like we do a lot explicitly. We have organizations like the Integrity Council, volunteer groups, and organizations that promote membership based on altruism, but overall, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of explicit stress on “being good,” so it seems that the source of this quality of personhood stems from our own personal desires to be honest, forthright, transparent human beings. I think that I can say with accuracy that this is true for most students at OU and around the world.

ustv-parks-recreation-ron-swanson-quotes-9The environment in which we’ve grown up (particularly in the U.S. – I have no experience anywhere else) is one where a lack of virtue makes us unpopular and isolated, and so we strive to be “good.” And our college environment does influence us a lot, simply because we are spending so much of our time around educated people, and it seems that, in general, educated people are more honest. Maybe it’s because of the confidence and dignity that having an education affords a person: There’s a lesser need to hide things about ourselves. Or maybe it’s because the exposure to ideas and information inspires a deeper desire to know, and it’s hard to know more without the help of other people, and it’s hard to enlist the help of other people if you are not what they perceive to be a quality person.

So you strive to be transparent and forthright and to have integrity for the sake of your desire to connect with others and learn about the world and enjoy life. And this desire seems to be very commonplace for people at college – students and faculty alike. So, the way for colleges and universities to “maximize their impact on the development of virtues, character, and citizenship in their students” is simply to continue to provide environments where the desire to learn and to connect with others is nurtured fully.

 

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Clementine and Joel from ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004)

Provide lots and lots of different choices for majors, keep clubs funded, listen to student opinions, hire faculty members that really want to share what they know, and make learning enjoyable. Because that is all anyone really wants. To learn. Human beings have been curiously stumbling their way through centuries of time, inventing, studying, creating, sharing, exploring, and learning. And through all of this, we have gravitated toward integrity and honesty because those things seem to be the best foundation for what most of us desire above all else – to better ourselves through the accumulation of knowledge and experience while simultaneously forming healthy bonds with other people. I guess it really is that simple, and I do think that this is the main mission of higher education. It isn’t very explicit because it doesn’t have to be.

Higher Education: Our Angsty Teenager

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Drawing of Harvard College in 1720!

I spent quite a while thoughtfully considering each of the events on the Historical Timeline of American Higher Education and even did a bit of independent Internet searching, but seeing as the provided timeline was twelve pages long, there were plenty of intriguing events to choose from. Just four events in, and I pinpointed the first that seemed particularly significant: in 1628, “the first printing press in the American Colonies was set up at Harvard College.”

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I recalled, during our first class period, when Dr. Morvant spoke briefly about the invention and utilization of the printing press in colleges in the United States. Students outnumbering textbooks was no more, and information was much more easily shared and transported; not to mention the fact that, as time went on, people who could not attend a university were able to get their hands on printed materials. Before the printing press, “books were reproduced by monks through the painstaking process of copying them by hand” which “made [them] very rare and expensive, meaning members of the lower and middle classes could not easily obtain them” (Brunelle). Without a lot of thinking, you can pretty well assume that literacy rates increased as people became better educated and more thoughtful with the new sharing of knowledge; further, scientific and medical research could be shared among scholars, aiding greatly in collaboration and further advancement. People of all economic and social standings were able to educate and entertain themselves with printed material, and this idea of educational equality is further emphasized in the next important event that I selected: The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Leading up to the Civil Rights Act, discrimination was uncontrollable in the United States, particularly and most notably against African Americans. This made it impossible for education to be open to everyone, which created innumerable problems and hardship in every way imaginable. If blacks wanted to attend college, they were left with the option of attending an all-black university, and I always wonder how much better the academic environment could have been if all people were allowed to learn and collaborate together. Once the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, however, “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” was outlawed (Wikipedia). Though everything was not perfect as soon as this legislation was passed, conditions slowly got better, and in terms of higher education, the inclusion of ALL types of people only created a more diverse, creative, and capable group of learners. With technology also moving forward, the introduction of IBM’s first version of the personal computer in 1981 was my choice for the third most important event in the history of higher education.

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On August 2nd, 1981, computer model 5150 was released by IBM and was immediately a huge success. Much like the printing press, this advancement in information sharing completely changed and improved the ways in which people learned, and further, they could now be more in control and more curious! The internet today is a sort of infinite black hole of everything. You can spend a ridiculous amount of time exploring every single informative or perverse crevice and still know so little. It is incredible. IBM’s clunky computer helped to jump-start what we have today, and while there are undeniable (and arguable) cons to such an interconnected world, the benefits surely prevail in providing us with never-ending connections to people, places, and ideas all over our world. These benefits are found just as bountifully in higher education, where students now study abroad, email each other from other countries, learn new languages with apps, find endless information and resources for research and paper-writing, and enjoy the exciting opportunities that are made available by computers and internet. The exciting and eventful maturation of higher education is a testament to its importance; it is kind of like a society’s little whining toddler with chocolate ice cream on his cheeks who has slowly and painfully matured into a young adolescent with a cracking voice and a hint of angst, still trying to figure out the ins and outs of life. I hope that, with time and effort, our teenager will mature into a fully functioning adult, more aware of what he is doing wrong and more able to take advice and correct it.

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Works Cited

Brunelle, Marcus. How the Printing Press Revolutionized Humanity (n.d.): n. pag. Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science.   Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

“Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.