The world of higher education is in a rough spot. People are beginning to figure out that a college education isn’t the golden ticket to that good job they were promised by people back in high school. I remember well seeing those “career counselors” who taught us that if we follow the rules, get an education, find a career with a good company…we will make more money than those with only a High School diploma.
You are reading so far and thinking, Wait! I am a student in college now. Or you are possibly a professor and wondering if the outlook is really that bleak for the future of your field.
I too teach college, so I feel your pain. After seventeen years in the field, I am quite comfortable with it. I love what I do. I love college students and teaching. This is part of the reason I want to share these thoughts with you.
The world of Higher Education is a crazy one. While from the outside, it looks like a place where a collection of teachers who should know their fields well pour their heart and soul into students who are just waiting to receive that knowledge, the reality is quite different.
There are different kinds of colleges and universities. Those in the system understand this well, those outside usually do not.
The “top of the heap” are those famous colleges. The Ivy League. These are the oldest and most competitive schools. The education will be a solid one, but more importantly, your classmates will be the brightest and best our world has to offer. If not, then they come from rich and powerful families and thus are still good for future networking prospects.
The next group of colleges are Tier 1 schools. These aren’t Ivy League, but they are trying to be in the top rankings for their type of school.
There are also what are known as R1 schools. These schools pride themselves on being research institutions. They get huge grants for their labs and publications. Don’t be fooled, your local state college might be an R1 school!
There are private colleges and universities. These range in quality from incredible to lousy. Unfortunately, the price-tag isn’t a great measurement for which is which.
At the “bottom” are community colleges. These schools deal with many students who are first generation college students. Students who don’t have the financial background to go to more expensive schools. Students who couldn’t get into “better” schools.
The incredible thing about community colleges and private colleges/universities is that they are most often the school where the professors are actually teaching the courses.
In the R1 and Tier 1 schools, the freshman and sophomore courses are often taught by Teaching Assistants (TAs). A TA is often just out of undergraduate work themselves and working on a Master’s degree. This means that you might be paying a lot of money for a brand name professor, but the person actually teaching has no experience in the field.
You might be asking, “But you still haven’t explained what the world of Higher Education will do!”
I believe that we will see a collapse in the Higher Education market similar to the crash in the housing market that was seen a few years ago.
I believe that there are some key factors that will set apart the schools that will make it and those that will change drastically or go under.
Ivy League schools will still go on. If for no other reason than that they are the schools where the rich and powerful learn how to stay rich and powerful, make friends with others who are rich and powerful and maybe even marry one of them.
Another group of schools that will be ok are the schools who have learned to budget well and are not in debt. This lack of debt means that when tuition prices hit a natural ceiling and can’t go up anymore, they aren’t scrambling to figure out how to make the payments on those new state of the art buildings they are so proud of.
The third group of schools that I believe will make it are those who are thinking way outside the norm.
- There are schools that have kept their costs down in spite of the crazy boom caused by cheap government loans and grants.
- There are schools that are trying new things that really cater to needs of the changing student population.
- Example: Working with 5 week sessions rather than semesters or quarters so that students can more easily work and study.
- Example: Finding ways to ensure that students graduate with zero student loans, or at very least minimal student loan debt.
- There are schools that will find a niche market. They will quit trying to cater to everyone.
- Example: Art schools, Seminaries, Pure Science and Math Schools.
What is your school doing?
I talked to a student recently who let me know that he was the best “breader” at Chic-fil-A. (The person who puts the flour and seasoning on the chicken before it gets cooked.) And guess what, he has job security. He does his job very well, people enjoy their chicken and that Chic-fil-A franchise makes a lot of money. Is that all because of him? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt and his bosses want to keep him.
It doesn’t matter much what it is that you do, if you are the very best at it, you will be in demand. Being just OK at it means that you will be looking for work.
When you are the very best marble craftsman, you don’t just instal bathroom sinks. You are the most in demand craftsman in the city/state/nation/world. You can choose your jobs as you have more work than you can handle.
When you are the best teacher, there is no need to worry about downsizing, if online education will put you out of work, or if enough students will sign up for your class for it to make. You will be in demand! Your classes will be full of students who have heard that you are the one to take for that subject!
When you are the best boss, everyone wants to work in your division. Your company wants to keep you because you are making them a profit. Your employees want to keep you because you are great to work for.
When you are the best author, you can pick your publisher. People pre-buy your books before they even know what they are about. Just putting your name on the dust jacket guarantees sales.
This all sounds great, but remember, in order to make it happen, you have to become the best! Start with a bite size chunk. Maybe you aren’t the best in the world, but you can become the best in town, the best in your company, the best in your school district, or even the best fry cook in your fast food restaurant.
When you were growing up, did you dream of staring at files on a computer screen in your cubicle for long hours each day? Most likely you didn’t. You see those internet ads that promise you the secret to living rich in Beverly Hills and sailing the coast in your yacht if you will only buy their course for $299.00 and wonder if there might be some truth in them that will help you break out of your secure job with its solid paycheck. You wonder if the world of the entrepreneur is really a road of roses leading to great riches? I have done both. Currently, I work for someone else. I have had my own business and other entrepreneur ventures in the past. They are a lot of work!
The myth: You are your own boss, you can do whatever you want.
The reality: You work way more than 40 hours a week and each day you know that if you don’t work, your employees won’t have jobs and your company will go under.
The myth: If you just have a good idea, people will beat a path to your door and you will be an overnight sensation. In a few weeks you will have maids and servants catering to your every whim. Your driver will ask if you want him to drive you in the limo or if you want him to bring around the Ferrari so you can drive yourself.
The reality: You budget like crazy so that you don’t run out of money. It takes time to build any business successfully. Yes, you may end up rich, but the idea of the overnight sensation is a myth. Creating success takes time.
So, with that reality check, are you ready to start trying to escape from your cubicle? Here is one small piece of advice. Start with something that you can fail with.
That may sound odd, but when you pick an idea to work on for your first start-up, there is always a chance it will fail. You want to work like crazy to make it succeed, but if it doesn’t, make sure it isn’t going to knock you so far down that you can never get back up again. Failure isn’t bad when we learn from it and grow from it. It is bad when it kills us.
The possibility of success is what keeps us working day after day for lower wages than we would make in the cubicle. Many of you may be doing things like I do. I still have the steady paycheck job. (Which I happen to love.) But there is a part of me that misses the entrepreneurship side of life; the risk and adrenaline of trying to make it work. So, I blog, write books, create events, and even sometimes sell things. Maybe that is the route for you, maybe you need to make the leap and take that risk on yourself! I wish you the best with your escape! Let me know if there is something I can do to help you.
Note: All Spanish has been translated to English by me for your reading pleasure.) In my Spanish classes, when I take attendance, I always have a “Question of the day”. Some students enjoy this time, others dread it. I have heard about it on evaluations over the years as both the thing they liked most about my class and the thing they liked least about the class.
There is a solid pedagogical reason that I do this every day. It gives me those few seconds with each student individually to make sure that at least one time in the class they have personal interaction with me and that they use Spanish. They may be able to hide when working in pairs or groups, but for that one moment, they must speak with me.
Today, my “Question of the day” was “What would you do to change the world?” — As you can see, no simple question! I was however fascinated by the answers they gave.
Here are a few:
I would give everyone in the world cool socks because good socks make you happy.
I would work to bring clean water to the world.
I would share Jesus with the world.
I will plant a church.
I will start an orphanage.
I will adopt lots of children who need a home.
I like my world, I don’t want to change it.
As you can see, there were a variety of answers. Some were on the silly side, while others were more serious. It will be interesting to see over the next decades if any of these ideas become reality for these young men and women.
What is your answer to this question? What will you do to change the world?
In 1959, the R&D guys over at the DuPont company invented a new product called Lycra. You probably call it Spandex. When they first developed it, it was used almost exclusively for the manufacture of girdles for women. What would have happened to the Lycra product line if DuPont had just continued to market their product to girdle manufacturers? If you haven’t noticed, most girls aren’t wearing girdles these days.
We can learn a lot from what they did. Your product/service isn’t Lycra, but the idea holds true. You need to be looking for improvement and change in whatever you do or you will end up out of date.
DuPont sought out other uses for Lycra. It was found to be good for making bathing suits, then the “biker shorts” came in style in the 80′s…yes, those were made from Lycra too! They continued to play with the material and blends of the fibers with other materials to come up with wrinkle free clothing… They continue to come up with new uses for this 50+ year old product. It still makes hundreds of millions of dollars for them in profit!
What can you do to take something you already make or a service you already offer in order to take it to a new generation?
Books By Burl Walker
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