Category Archives: College

This Summer Express Yourself Through Education

I know what you are thinking. Summer time is here wooohoo! For many of us, the summer is a time to close the books on school for a solid three whole months. Woot! I mean, who needs school anyway? It’s such a pain. Classes that you may be forced to take, homework that you could care less about and tests that give you anxiety you don’t need because life is stressful enough as it is! Whoever invented school, clearly was not thinking about your needs…or were they?

With so much pressure on us as students, parents, teachers and education administrators its no wonder we often forget about the amount of pressure on the education system as described in Ellen Lagemann’s book “An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research.” Imagine if your job was to make sure people turn out to be “good citizens” (whatever that means, who defines what’s good anyway?).  Suddenly, your calculus exam doesn’t seem so scary after all.

But the anxiety that comes with tests is very real. Sometimes it feels that you have no control over the situation. The learning is painful because someone else is telling you what to do and learn. As Diane Coutu suggests there are two types of anxiety associated with learning. One stems from feeling stupid if you fail and the other from realizing that if you don’t change your behavior you will fail. Diane refers to these types of anxiety as “learning anxiety” and “survival anxiety,” respectively. This anxiety can not only prevent you from achieving your academic goals but it can also mislead teachers to judge you as incapable of learning the subject even though you are totally capable!

Lucky for you it’s the summer and it just might be the perfect time to learn that education isn’t all about tests and assessments.  It’s also about expressing yourself.

Education doesn’t have to be forced if you have the curiosity and passion to find out for yourself what you are interested in. In fact, people have been learning this way forever. Alicia Keys, Isaac Newton and Kobe Bryant learned about things that they were interested for years before becoming super skilled. Now they can express themselves as they wish (well, not Mr. Newton anymore). They have all expressed themselves through art, math and science or sport and share the fact that without becoming educated in their field, they may have not found the means to express themselves as they want to.

It’s doubtful that they understood everything the first time they tried to learn what they liked. There were probably bumps along the way. Lots of bumps. But if you don’t come across things that you don’t understand or that are not obvious, then you wouldn’t be learning would you!

This summer learn about something you enjoy. And find a way to express yourself.


When it comes to Education: Think Value, not Price.

My great grandfather was a coal miner, and a poet. He did not go to college (it was early 20th century), but he was surely keen on education and learning. Two generations later, most of my aunts and uncles have at least associate degrees , and a handful of them have post-undergraduate degrees (M.Ds, Ph.Ds, M.S, J.D, Pharm.D…etc). In my generation, all of my cousins have at least a college dergee, and most of them have either completed, are still working on or are planning to obtain post-undergraduate degrees. It is quite apparent that an emphasis placed on education has had a profound effect on later generations. As a result, even when I was a kid, I was constantly bombarded with the idea that the number of diplomas received from renowned educational institutions directly correlates with how competitive I am in the job market.

This relationship seems harmless and straight-forward, but I was never given an explanation, let alone a justification.

Ironic, must I say, that we collectively complain about the high cost of education, and yet so few of us could actually articulate what we’re really paying for. If all that we need, is a piece of paper to prove that we’re good enough for the job market, then it seems, at least to me, that we’re wasting grands of cash and years of time by going to college – are these really just rites of passage to framed pieces of paper? If this really is the case, then of course we should complain about the price of education, because our isn’t worth much at all!

A good while ago, MIT made its course lectures available through MIT OpenCourseWare. It was a commendable effort to make educational content accessible to the public, but little did many know, most college professors already publish their presentation slides, homework assignments, even exams online. In reality, very few college faculty members try to intentionally keep unenrolled individuals from accessing college course materials. In this sense, I would say, MIT’s OpenCourseWare is more of an organizational breakthrough than a social one.

When Bharani and I started contemplating the idea of empowering educators with the information technologies they need to create and deliver their lessons over the internet so as to reach out to students in distant regions, even those not enrolled in schools, I realized that I was, on numerous occasions, asked for my opinion on how educational technology may one day make colleges and schools obsolete. When I asked for what inspired this worry, the answer was often “well, now you’re allowing those not enrolled in classes to gain access to content they did not pay for”.

Before I could even think of a response to the actual question, I was astonished by I just heard. It seemed as though those who asked me the question have decided that the thousands of dollars they paid colleges, are for exclusive access to educational content. I couldn’t help but to consider the similarities between this percept of education, and literary inquisitions. It seems quite contradictory that at colleges, what we presume to be cradles of free thinkers, are now perceived as form of social control for those who can afford the tuition to maintain their competitive advantage.

This is not what I believe what education is, or should be.

To subscribe to this view of education, is to believe that a student who read more books is unconditionally better educated than one who read fewer.

When I arrived at Carnegie Mellon, one of the first things I noticed is that not only do many colleges share the same textbooks, similar lectures and sometimes even similar exams. Even if the course materials are different, one can very easily gain access to additional content on the Internet. Even just within a single college, all the students in the same class read the same lecture slides, the same books and take the same exams, but they’re certainly not guaranteed to have the same educational outcomes.

It would perhaps be a mistake to think that one’s education starts and ends on aborption of educational content. We live in an era where speeches and ideas are generated and shared freely, and in the midst of these exchanges, one is bound to come in contact with ideas that contradict one another. It is then, extremely crucial to be able to analyze and assess these ideas so one can come to informed conclusions and make conscious choices. Needless to say, the skills and the ability to apply the skills can hardly be perfected by reading or sitting through a class; and schools, especially colleges, are venues at which students get to meet other students who may hold different opinions on a subject matter. Meaningful exchanges of arguments are crucial to the development of decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Perhaps the reason why some of us believed that sharing educational content poses a substantial threat to schools is because we believe that education is only about what we passively receive from classes. Herbert Simon once said that learning results from what a student thinks and does, and a teacher can only impact what a student does to learn. In other words, a substantial portion of learning happens outside of class when we juggle with the ideas that we’ve been exposed to and discover what is the most plausible to us, be it rational or romantic, scientific or artistic. A book has barely any knowledge value to us if the ideas in the book mean no more to us than the characters the book was printed in.

If it’s what we think and decide about educational content that counts, why can’t we share a book with someone who may benefit from reading it? After all, how much a person learns from the book, is up to the person to decide.


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With Their Whole Lives Ahead Of Them: Myth #4

Myth #4

Students who don’t graduate university understand fully the value of a college degree and the consequences and trade-offs of leaving school without one.

It’s unclear how a college student would be able to calculate the value of a college degree considering that our society does such an abysmal job of preparing them for college in the first place. Forget about enumerating the benefits of a college degree. There is no standard for high school students to learn about finance, or managing a large budget (ie financial aid) in fact achievements in math in our high schools is on average, pitiful. How can the average high school student be expected to value anything meaningfully? Incoming college students often depend on poorly trained guidance counselors for career advice and some sense of the value of a college education. Our education system rarely gives students the opportunity to experiment with what they like or what they are good at in K-12 but when they attend college they are suddenly expected to know what career path is best suited for them. Ironically, students are told to experiment in college, a place where the cost of failure is the highest.

College students are simply told – you need a college degree. In a society that prides itself on reasoning and questioning, this is pretty poor logic. Considering how economies around the globe are more intertwined than ever, labor markets from various countries will continue to affect one another. We owe it to our students to have a better explanation for why college is important and we with all the data available we should be able to enumerate how they can leverage their degree to achieve the quality of life they desire.

I do not think that the answer to rising tuition costs is simply to provide more financial aid. As a culture corporations and the government seem to be ok with throwing money at problems. Unless of course we are in a recession, then drastic cost-cutting measure are put in to effect. In order for our education system to remain competitive I think that one major component will be our ability to cut education costs via the use of technology today. Not when its too late and many more millions of students fail to graduate college or forgo the opportunity completely.

“25 percent of those who dropped out and 40% of those with degrees suggest as their top priority cutting the cost of college by a quarter.”

Page 22 of the report has some great suggestions for how to make the dream of achieving a college education more likely for more students. Among them include cutting the cost of attending college by 25 percent, making sure that students are taught good study habits, providing day care services for students that need it, providing the opportunity to talk with advisers who know all about the different college and job-training programs so that students can make an informed choice, and put more classes online.

In summary, expecting college students to figure everything out on their own is sure to lead our country down a dismal path of failure. We need open lines of communication and honest efforts to help college students find their way through higher education. What we should demand in return is that college students put in the effort to take advantage of that opportunity.

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myth #3


Most students go through a meticulous process of choosing their college from an array of alternatives.

From my personal experience I know that this is not true. In fact, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a town with a flagship university (The University of Florida) which is where I attended college. I applied to college because that’s what all my friends were doing during my senior year of high school and up until that point I kind of just did what they did to get by.  I got lucky. But I can imagine that if you grew up in a town without a flagship university, adequate guidance or an academically rigorous high school experience your knowledge about college may be slim to none.

“Among those who did not complete college, two-thirds say they selected their school primarily for its convenient location, nearly 6 in 10 because its schedule worked with theirs and 57 percent because the tuition and fees were affordable.”

Navigating the college application process without any guidance is like walking blindfolded into a maze.

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myth #2

Myth #2

Most college students are supported by their parents and take advantage of a multitude of available loans, scholarships, and savings plans.

Reading about this myth was a bit startling since decision makers should know the FAFSA process and that it does not cover 100% of the financial expenditures associated with college. (On a side note, for an interesting study on FAFSA applications check out the article below that explain how the application process can be improved to help more students attend college.)

The Public Agenda study says that “nearly 6 in 10 students who left higher education without graduating say that they had to pay for college themselves. In contrast, more than 6 in 10 of those who completed their degrees say that they had help from parents or other relatives to cover the cost of school.”

Adding to the pain, the study cites that “3 in 10 of those young people who leave school without getting a diploma report that they have college loans.” These students as you can imagine are the worst off, feeling dejected, having no college diploma yet college loans to pay.

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myth #1

The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and conducted by Public Agenda, is a great start at explaining why college students at public universities are failing by the droves.

Some commonly sited reasons why college is so difficult for some students  as mentioned by the study include “rising tuition costs and poor academic preparation and study skills.”  The study seems targeted at an audience that may not know that the average college student works to put himself or herself through school and that college is not exactly play time for most students.  “Among students in four-year schools, 45% work more than 20 hours a week, 23% of college students have dependent children and just 25% of students attend the sort of residential college we often envision.”

The study de-bunks several myths about college students

Myth #1

Most students go to college full-time. If they leave without a degree, it’s because they’re bored with their classes and don’t want to work hard.

The truth is that the opportunity cost of going to college for many students is just too high. With many of them working one or two part-time jobs to pay for school how can they be expected to be fully prepared for an exam? Students who drop out of school are “almost twice as likely to cite juggling work and school as their main problem as they are to blame tuition bills (54% or 31% respectively).”

Just 10% of students leave college because they are bored, meaning that we should look at alternative reasons for why students are failing to reach their goals.  Ironically, the students that society needs to complete college the most are the ones that can’t afford to because they need to provide their families with immediate financial support. “56% cite needing to work full time and 53% cite family commitments” as reasons for not returning to school once dropping out. While only 26% say that they would not be able to afford college.

Having witnessed several friends either drop out of college or be unable to attend due to family concerns, these numbers don’t seem alarming. What is alarming is that it took so long for it to register on the radar of education policy and decision makers.