Recently, a friend told me a story from his childhood. He and his father were about to jump into a stream on a hot summer day. His father warned him, “Now son, remember that the water is moving. You may wind up further down the stream than where you jumped in.” I thought that was a wonderful metaphor for life. We jump in not knowing exactly where we will wind up, but while our destinations may be shaped by forces beyond our control, our ability to navigate shifting environments plays a tremendous role in shaping who we become.
Higher Education is like that stream. In my nearly 30 years of service to my passion and profession, never before have I witnessed such scrutiny of the Higher Education system in America. The cost of college and the accessibility of information through online and non-traditional means are changing the landscape. The very value of a college degree is coming into question. At the same time, Higher Ed has never demonstrated more value and success. We are graduating the highest numbers of minority, first generation and immigrant students in history. Our community colleges are brimming with non-traditional students who model social mobility as they change and upgrade skills and knowledge. Society looks to colleges to instill behaviors and values in young people that were once the province of families and religious institutions: ethical sexual conduct, responsible drinking habits, and service to our communities.
How did we get to here? All of us have jumped into the fast-moving stream and found ourselves in different places than where we started. What were the political, social, financial and personal moments that brought us to this place in our history? This blog series is meant to give first-person views of the ongoing evolution of Higher Education — a book store director describes his unsuccessful fight against the rise in the cost of text books; a closeted softball coach who once feared being “out” to her players and colleagues now invites them to her wedding.
Recently, I glanced at my daughter’s reading list for her college Composition I class. I was struck by the diversity of the readings – there were the standards like John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens and Virginia Wolff, but there were also Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and David Eggers. Just a few decades ago, students graduated without ever having read a writer from a minority background. My daughter takes her reading list for granted, but I recall being a young English professor tasked with integrating the literature of women and minority writers into my department’s general education curriculum. I received a small grant and worked with just a few fiercely committed individuals, evolving the standard canon to a more inclusive model that prioritized the stories of the many over the stories of the few. At the time, I had no idea that our labors over those syllabi were part of a larger multicultural movement that slowly turned the mission of Higher Education—and my own mission— toward multicultural studies and support.
There are many stories out there. This month, I invite you to reflect on your own experiences across the vast array of topics that comprise Higher Ed. Whether you were working in the trenches of a program or sitting around the executive conference table, what did you see and do at critical moments, even if you didn’t even realize then that they were critical at the time?
Your stories can shed light on where we are today, and help us get our bearings as future generations jump into the stream.