Can you hear it?
It is the sound of parents, state legislators, governors, alumni, and students. And they are all saying the same thing. . . What is college worth, and what will it get me?
As academic advisors, and others in SA, we often hear questions about the value of higher education. “Just what is my tuition buying?” say many students, and their parents. Murray Sperber, an emeritus professor of English and American studies at Indiana University, has publicly worried that college has become “beer and circus.” Put another way, college has been considered by some a four-year physical and sometimes mental vacation.
With all respect to Professor Sperber, I disagree. There is both inherent, intangible benefits and other, more practical and measurable benefits. How can those providing academic advising demonstrate the value of a college education? One word: convergence.
Trending in academic advising is the idea of integrating academic and career advising, an idea I call convergence . I view career advising as a subdiscipline of academic advising. Career advising is an activity that contextualizes academic decisions (such as course selection, major decision-making, and choice of co-curricular activities) in light of career exploration and development.
Career advising, to be clear, is not a substitute for academic advising, which has as its key concepts the curriculum, student learning, and, I would argue, self-discovery about one’s academic strengths and abilities. Career advising helps students understand that the activities that they are good at, and things that they love to do, also have relevance to careers and the jobs that constitute one’s career.
The key to convergence is to recognize that academic decisions are made in light of career development concerns. No longer silos, academic advising and career advising, mostly offered through career counselors, are two halves of one, more robust and meaningful whole. This brings about the obvious question — What to do if a student does not know the career she desires? Or even a major?
Advisors who work with exploratory (or undeclared) students can have significant conversations with students about the convergence of academic and career interests, opening students up to finding themselves and these interests. Selecting a career path can only occur when there is convergence between both these factors.
This is where I believe a truly appreciative approach, using Appreciative Advising (developed from Appreciative Inquiry), is crucial. Focusing student attention on what they are good at and what they enjoy doing, and the careers that are related to those two factors, means career development becomes a matter of aligning the first two with the third. In the Discover and Dream phases of Appreciative Advising, the advisor connects the student’s interests and passions with their dreams of how these can be realized in a career. One of the key value propositions of higher education is that students can “find themselves.” Finding oneself is about this very alignment between academic interests and career options, and is made much more realistic through the use of Appreciative Advising techniques that integrate career advising. Though the language may change, the key concept is to develop a more full sense of oneself and one’s unique ways of contributing to the world.
How are you and your colleagues addressing the question of college value? How might considering and implementing professional development and organizational structures that support the convergence of academic and career advising help our institutions make the case that higher education has, in fact, a higher value? We are just now starting these conversations on many of our campuses, and I hope to continue the conversation with you!