A semester in the life of a college-level educator

Why do you need a degree to do that?

Yes, as a college instructor, I do ask this question every semester. In American society, there is now a concept that everyone has a right to higher education, yet there’s a degree of shaming when someone decides they don’t want to go. High school counselors often do not consider the real interests of the student. They are driven to increase the percentage of students transitioning from high school to college by the local school board. College career counselors have a similar pressure to increase enrollment. This means that a student who is not really interested in more formal education are now being talked into enrolling.

The truth is while access to higher education is a right everyone has, it is not necessary for success.4, 5 But the problem is our very definition of success. While not one of the questions I normally ask, I have asked students why they need a college degree – especially if they are wanting to go into a skilled trade anyway.

It goes back to our definition of success

Whenever I am asked by my students if I like what I do, I always tell them the same answer. I get paid to play. I love what I am doing. I love public speaking and I am fascinated by the process of learning. I don’t need a bunch of awards or public recognition as a part of my success. For me, a student telling me “I’ve learned something from your class” is all I need. We are driven by a world that demands success be tangible. Success is more than an award that hangs on the wall or sits on a shelf or bank account. It comes in knowing you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do. For some, yes, a college degree is a part o the process to achieving success. For others, the college degree and its pursuit is hampering success.

Regardless of income, if you could do anything…

This goes along with my own life and the feeling I get paid to play with what I do. If you’re considering college and your other options this is an important question to ask yourself. If you could do any occupation you desired regardless of pay, what would it be? Although I no longer officially advise students, when asked, I do offer them that advice. I then ask them if they’ve done any research into that occupation of their dreams. Oftentimes, they have not. They have no idea what they need to do to actually get into their dream job. But by steering them into researching it, it helps them make decisions which are right for them.

It’s never too late to ask

Yes, this is right. When I began pursuing graduate school in 2003, I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to teach history at the college level. But I had the answer before I began graduate school. I took the time to do my research, to interview those in the occupation I wanted. I also asked hard questions to myself. Questions such as “do I have what it takes to do this?” and “is it worth what it takes?” As I continued into graduate school, I continued to ask those questions as I completed the Masters and began work on my Ph.D. In fact, although I have now been teaching for a while, I still ask those questions as I begin to prepare for the next semester. I doubt I will ever stop, either.

Rethinking Student Retention in Community Colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice. Published 2002. Accessed September 8, 2017.
College debt, no degree means world of financial hurt. USA TODAY. Published July 4, 2016. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Goudreau J. The 10 Worst College Majors. Forbes. Published October 11, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Fuller L. College Degrees vs. Trade Jobs: The growing demand for skilled labor. NBC Affiliate WPSD Channel 6 News. Published May 17, 2017. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Dill K. The 8 Jobs In High Demand That Don’t Require A College Degree. Forbes. Published November 20, 2014. Accessed September 8, 2017.

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