As an instructor at a community college teaching a variety of courses ranging from video production and multimedia to web design and development, I am often asked by students if the program they are studying will land them a job upon graduation. This is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer because on the surface the answer negates the work that I do as an instructor: your college degree does not guarantee a job and in some professions, such as those in the arts including web design and development, a college degree is given less weight than talent and ability.
Does this mean there is no value to college? There is still value in college and I’m not just saying that because I get paid to teach. The value is found in expanding your interests, fueling your passion, and being challenged by other students and instructors.
Expand Your Interests
The Internet has made it easier than ever to discover everything about anything. But with infinite options come the Sisyphean task of choosing the right interests and the associated fear those interests will not lead to a job or monetary gain. The result? People don’t choose and instead consume what is fed to them through the entertainment distribution channels of the Internet.
The benefit of college is to introduce students to topics they might not have discovered on their own. The best instructors connect information from multiple sources to the central theme of the course they teach. They provide an opportunity for students to discover the new in the old and to see the value in areas of study that are not directly related to their chosen profession.
The role of the instructor is to provide an environment where students can identify and connect to their passion and drive buried deep within.
Fuel Your Passion
There is a lot to be said about passion in both positive and negative terms. But the short- and long-term success of students is connected to their ability to identify and connect with their source of passion.
Passion helps you to look at college not with the lens of entitlement, but with the lens of opportunity. Homework becomes an opportunity to try something new instead of being yet another irrelevant set of tasks that prevent you from doing what you really want to do (which is the equivalent of my dog ate my homework).
By identifying your passion, you can go beyond the surface level of learning often provided by a curriculum and go deeper into the areas you really want to learn about.
An Opportunity to Be Challenged By Others
In the “real world” we often don’t get challenged to improve or take risks because of the fear of negative consequences. College should be a place to get challenged by others through direct feedback and observation. Being open and vulnerable to ask your fellow classmate or your instructor is key: How am I doing? How can I improve? Without this challenge, accountability vanishes and entitlement sneaks in. The A is demanded for effort, not results, and the reputation of collegiate study is diminished.
What if the true value of education is found in the statement, “I think you can do better”?
Can’t you do all this without college?
Yes. You can. If you are disciplined enough and have the humility to figure it out for yourself by asking a lot of questions of others. But most people, myself included, lack discipline and commitment.
I needed college to illuminate what I didn’t know and expose me to what could be. I needed to be held accountable and be told my work didn’t measure up. I needed college to teach me discipline.
College helped me to learn how to connect to others with differing beliefs. It exposed me to new ideas. It made me hungry to continually learn. It helped me to see the humanity in other people.
Yes, I have debt.
Yes, I have regrets.
But I would have those whether I went to college or not.