Kathryn Primrose

Higher Ed: Past & Future

The Conversation

If you would have asked me a year ago about the classes I might have predicted that I would be taking spring semester of my freshman year of college, I can certainly assure you that “Higher Education: Past and Future” would not have been one of the first to pop into my mind. However, as I rapidly approach the concluding days of my first full year within the higher education system, I can honestly say that I am so very glad that it eventually did. I am so sincerely thankful for the opportunity that this course gave me to truly think about the experience that I am currently immersed in from multiple levels of depth, scrutiny, and optimism, and for the privilege of learning from and have an open dialogue of ideas with the peers and instructors that I did.

In the grand scheme of things, I truly don’t feel that there was anything obviously missing from the course subject matter that was covered over the last four months. Granted, seeing as I initially entered the classroom with very little existing knowledge regarding the realm of higher education beyond perhaps what one might be able to find on a college brochure or within a freshman orientation session, most of the depth of this course progressed to levels I had not yet before encountered or even thought of. I very much so appreciated the deliberate challenge each week to sit down and explicitly think about a dimension of the world I’d enrolled in, what it used to look like, where it was headed, and how it would affect me. If anything, I think that it could have been interesting to talk a bit more about the complexity of the in-state/out-of-state student algorithm, whether that be how the price difference is calculated, what contributes to the particular geographic demographic makeup of a university, or simply the different factors of university life that such differences might affect. Particularly as an out-of-state student attending a university where a fairly decent percent of the student population are not residents of the state of Oklahoma, I feel that such a process might be a relevant potential topic of conversation.

At the end of the day, the possibilities in terms of conversation for this course lie as deep as the scope of the world of higher education itself, and ultimately I think that simply further depth as opposed to vast new topics would ultimately prove most beneficial to students, if any changes were even made at all. I will forever fondly reflect on my time in this course as a place where a portion of my voice was discovered, and I look forward to the next three years and a lifetime of keeping the conversation going. All that matters, in my opinion, is that the conversation lives on.

Turning a New Page: The Future of Libraries

Libraries have essentially always held a very unique, if not sacred, role in the history and culture of the world itself. Whether this role has been manifested in its physical designation as a concrete place meant to store written knowledge and information or in its almost mythical position as gatekeeper of civilization’s progress and harvested growth, the institution of libraries and the written word has been one of the hallmarks of society for almost as long as society itself has existed. However, as the age grows ever more modern, one must contemplate whether or not physical libraries should continue to bear both titles of primary information keepers as well as historic figureheads of sorts, or if a shift might be underway that will alter the world of documented knowledge forever.

In 1731 the Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by a group of friends that included Benjamin Franklin, and is widely regarded as setting the precedent for the first truly public library in America. As at this point in history an education and proper access to knowledge and materials was still relatively scarce if one wasn’t from high class or wealth, the introduction of the concept that the common man could borrow books and references at his leisure to expand his own intellectual horizons was relatively groundbreaking. And as time went on, the library trend only exploded all the more. From “Pack Horse Librarians” to developing into a staple component of schools and colleges across the nation, it seemed that the mark of a library meant the mark of unparalleled intellectual establishment and growth. There was something hallowed about the concept of a building that merely within a series of walls could physically contain essentially the entire foundation of the growth of civilization and its knowledge, history, and future, and that it would be recorded forever in undeniable ink.

However, time continued to march on. And with it, the unstoppable force of innovation and evolution, effects which certainly did not ignore the institution of physical libraries. In the eyes of some, the technology tidal wave might as well as have spelled digital disaster for the classic library. With the same information previously preciously guarded within the vaults of spines and pages suddenly readily available at a simple click or google search, not only did concrete libraries seem to lose their usefulness, but also the information they held a bit of its reverence. Not only was information not as special or well-earned anymore, but it also lost a piece of credibility with the notion that essentially anyone could post something on the internet as fact without the same process of validation that a physical book might. With the speed and higher chance at instant gratification that internet sources offer, many wonder what place physical libraries should hope to have in modern society.

In the Declaration of Independence, a phrase is included that states that all people are entitled to the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is my humble opinion that these rights indeed extend to every citizen regardless of walk of life, and that these rights include access to knowledge and information. Historically, this role of providing access was held almost exclusively by physical libraries, which in their time, were initially groundbreaking themselves in extending such rights. Presently, the overwhelming cultural shift towards technology and digital sharing of information has in a sense extended this right in its own way, providing the common man a less formal and faster avenue for accessing such knowledge. This all to say, it is certainly the argument of some that both avenues of intellect cannot continue, that one or the other must crawl out of the battle utterly victorious. However, I feel that a hybrid of sorts is the best solution to this quandary. Yes, technology is a great way to disperse information quickly, cheaply, and easily. However, the cultural and historic significance that the physical library possesses will never, and physically can never, be replicated with a simple “www…”. I believe that society jointly bearing the cost of perhaps smaller yet still substantial physical establishments of learning combined with collective innovation within the realm of electronic harvesting of knowledge is the best way to preserve society’s innovations while not inhibiting its future ones. While I will certainly retain an element of realism regarding the progression of information diffusion pertaining to electronic sources, sometimes classic just cannot be defined by a mere hashtag. And for that reason, I feel that collective instead of divisive innovation is truly the future of the American library system.

Innovative Disruption: A Point of No Return, or a Vicious Cycle?

Innovative Disruption. Although upon first reflection such a phrase could almost be perceived as an oxymoron, the momentum behind the growing presence of Innovative Disruption in modern culture, and more specifically higher education, is certainly a concrete force to be reckoned with across various spectrums. While innovation typically evokes a more positive connotation and disruption prompts more negative or hesitant feelings, the combination of the two blends together to form a stealthy yet powerful concept with the capacity to stake its claim virtually anywhere.

As opposed to simply change or improvement, Innovative Disruption stands unique in that the way it is perceived is dependent on the lens through which it is viewed and the way it is enacted. From the standpoint of consumers, there are often both pros and cons. From the perspective of say, existing merchants, such a shift might be encountered negatively. In the opinion of society as a whole, innovative disruption might be just the very thing needed. Nevertheless, the perceptions, motives, and driving factors behind Innovative Disruption are as equally complex and multifaceted as the effects that it produces.

One example of Innovative Disruption that I have encountered personally, in addition to observing in culture as a whole, is the Innovative Disruption of the rise of social media popularity. Before the social media explosion, the most popular forms of communication were IM, text messaging, voice calls, or yes even simply conversing in person. What you knew about the lives of other people was acquired by conversing with the person directly or at least with someone else who might be able to offer a bit of information of their own. But with the exponential popularity and growth of social networking hubs such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, such direct communication seems no longer as necessary or as popular. Advantages of this shift include the fact that it has become far easier, quicker, and more fun to stay connected with friends and family merely with the tap of a button. It could even be viewed as a time saving mechanism, since oftentimes committing to a time for face to face or at least telephone interaction is not necessary with these new tools. However, there are also several distinct disadvantages. Increased ease in regards to social media usage has indeed increased user participation, only further increasing the number of people one can connect and keep up with online. Individuals can become so preoccupied with passively observing the life happenings of those in their digital circles that living fully in the present is far rarer. There is hardly an audience you will look at or an event that you will attend without spotting dozens of people passively scrolling through their twitter feed or examining someone’s latest profile picture. The ease and popularity of social media certainly enormously helps to minimize the issue of being able to stay in touch with people or stay up to date on local events, yet also significantly lessens the appreciation for the happenings in the physical present. While the social media takeover has indeed revolutionized communication in many innovative ways, proponents of face to face or otherwise more conventional methods of communication may feel substantially more disrupted.

Innovative Disruption is a complex concept, yet is undoubtedly one that is critical in propelling forward a visionary and progressive society. However, one must be weary of the possibility that the very Innovative Disruption that might be striving towards streamlining life might make is far less efficient in another area or in the long run.

Who’s the Boss?

The nation of the United States of America has always had a special history and connection with the concept of government and authority. As a country literally born from a dissatisfaction with the then current system and propelled forward by a desire to create a brand new, separate system of government that could be uniquely shaped and adjusted to fit the young country in the best possible way, the idea of possessing an organized system responsible for governing others is a notion that is held particularly dear in many different aspects of American society. However, with this practically innate feeling of the right to have an influence and say in how any given governing structure is run, it is understandable how often times conflicts arise regarding just how such systems are managed and more importantly, who the ones who get to manage them will be.

There is no doubt that this struggle can be acutely observed within institutions of higher education. Universities have long served as unofficial hubs for students to explore their rights, opinions, and desires for themselves and the world around them, often times not in total agreement with those officially designated by the university to have control over these very issues. Thus a perpetual back-and-forth ensues, with students championing the argument that as the recipients of the education, the financial “customers” of the colleges themselves, and frankly the vast majority of a university population, they should hold a strongly prominent position of influence and decision making in regards to how the university is run and what occurs on campus. Yet on the other hand, university administrators present an equally compelling argument, revolving around the ideas that as the institution is the one that has admitted the students and who is responsible for the maintenance of the college’s reputation and functioning as a whole, they ought to be automatically and systematically entitled to those positions of authority and by extension, a greater level of control and influence.

This complex power struggle becomes even more evident when individual issues are considered. For example, when pondering the question of who should have a more weighted say in the hiring of faculty, tenure decisions, or curriculum revision, one might suggest that students should have a more active role, as such decisions directly impact their educational experience both financially and in the classroom. However, one might also suggest that such decisions cannot be made without the expertise and specific experience of faculty and administration, something that most students would not effectively be able to offer. Some issues, such as faculty workload or undergraduate student admission decisions, may not immediately seem like they would hold much interest to students in the first place, but upon further reflection could be interpreted as something that students might have very different opinions on then perhaps the general administration, especially considering the potential of differing mindsets regarding the “bottom line” goal for the university in general, whether that is to educate students most effectively or to most effectively wind up with a comfortable profit margin at the end of the year. Historically, there has been much debate over which party within an institution for higher education ought to hold the greatest say in regards to on campus political on-goings or social movements. As previously mentioned, the college years are almost famous for the increased passion for change and a heard voice observed in the students composing those populations, while faculty and administration scramble to make sure that everything that goes on within that realm is carefully monitored to fit within the acceptable molds that form the very reputation of their respective universities.

At the end of the day, there is not a simple excel spreadsheet where one could simply sort which aspects which populations of the university should hold the highest authority on and then simply call it a day. With a body of academic culture that is as cautious to embrace change as it is radical to encourage it, I don’t expect that this fluid struggle will become explicitly sorted out any time soon, if honestly ever. However, I do believe that intentionally endeavoring to pursue a more joint than divided effort to collaborate on issues and decisions between administration, faculty, and students will ultimately have the most successful impact in creating a college culture that is more unified and impactful as a whole.

 

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The Science of Adulthood

According to about.chemistry.com, the scientific definition of a buffer is a solution that utilizes chemical properties to keep a solution “stable,” as well as being identified as “resistant to changes” (in pH). Although the concept of a buffer in the realm of modern college may not necessarily be as applicable to the real world outside of the chemistry lab, the parallels that it draws with the idea of a buffer between college students and the adult “real world” can offer significant insight into the debate of what exactly the role or right of the university administration is in providing such a buffer.

In a broader response to a question that could be answered in a broad variety of ways, I might dare propose a broad question of my own – if the purpose of creating a sort of buffer between college students and the adult world is created, when exactly is it that a person explicitly becomes an adult? Is there even such a thing as a full fledged, turning of the page moment where one second an individual is fully child, and the next fully adult? In my humble opinion, I feel that such a transition becomes a bit more complicated than that based on a number of factors. For most individuals, I feel that the road to adulthood is highly unique and varying from person to person. For some, a higher level of maturity and global consciousness may be obtained earlier in life, validating their place in the realm of adulthood perhaps sooner than when they are handed their diploma or don a cap and gown. For others, a prolific and unparalleled life event may take place that in essence forces them to make a leap into adulthood, often times not by choice. And for still others, the transition between adolescence and adulthood has become so diluted and prolonged that for some it is difficult to determine at what point true adulthood is reached. Is adulthood marked by well known life milestones, such as when an individual goes off to college, officially moves out of the house, starts a family of their own, or secures a “real” working career? Or is adulthood measured by the maturity and responsibility with which one faces those life events, either big or small?

These broad questions often elicit equally as broad answers from students, depending on who is asked. I believe that this fact is a large contributor to the ever gray and blurred line between what the university or parents have the “right” to control in the lives of today’s students. On the one hand, I believe that the college process brings about so many changes and new experiences for students on its own, that some level of shielding from further dramatic adjustments is a positive way to protect students from breaking under the weight of so many new transitions and impacts on their ways of life and identity. Also, it is a generally well regarded fact (no matter how much the youth try to dispute it) that older and wiser people are older and wiser for a reason, and that their insight ought to be respected as such. Yet on the other hand, I believe that imposing such restrictions on students is to some extent a step of too much presumption on the part of the university. The beauty of the college experience for many modern students is the opportunity to learn more than perhaps ever before in their lives about who they are as an individual, and how they will uniquely choose to forge the path that they want to pursue in life. For a university to impose the same general sanctions in hopes of creating a protective buffer that affects an incredibly large number of people, all trying to discover exactly what it is in life that makes them different from those thousand others, is a bit of a recipe for discontentment. Not all students can be protected in the same ways because not all students feel that they need to be protected from the same things.

All this to say, there are many ways to examine and advocate for or against a student buffer when it is examined under the context of being implemented for the sheer intended protection of the students in question. However, looking back to the scientific definition of a buffer, the true motives of such practices also must be adequately considered. Aside from benefitting students, imposing such a buffer can also be interpreted as highly beneficial for the authority in question as it gives them some level of established control over the student population, allowing them to have a greater chance at keeping such an at times unpredictable population “stable” and to some extent “resistant to change.” While these are amiable qualities in some respects in regards to the overall peaceful nature of the system, it can also come off a bit irksome to students often seeking the sort of changes that administration is reluctant to consider, a main source of the continued perpetuation of this forever struggle between the students and the authority figures present, such as parents or university administration.

At the end of the day, students must remember that their very identity as a student implies that they exist as such entirely because of the fact that they attend a university, and because of this the two entities are invariably intertwined whether they’d necessarily like to be or not. However, the constant give and take between the authorities and the students who will one day turn into these authorities themselves will continue to provide a widely varied source of discussion on the weight given to the student voice and variations of identity, ultimately contributing to a level of complexity that would make the periodic table jealous and a chemical reaction that will forever be anything but predictable.

 

It Started With Speed Dating

In an age of an ever growing, ever public push for a less divided and more inclusive society across a broad spectrum of categories, particularly here at the University of Oklahoma, I would naturally like to flatter myself that I am the sort of individual who never passes up a chance to combat racism, classism, or other forms of injustice in every day scenarios. However, it is something innate in the very core of human nature, I feel, to have a desire if not a raw need to view oneself in the best light possible, and to dismiss sneaking possibilities that might risk dragging down this high horse we’d like to ideally align ourselves with. And perhaps this is why divisive community practices such as classism or racism continue to be prevalent, despite the fact that the general society will almost always agree that such practices are immoral and otherwise wrong. This is because in order to effectively combat such things, individuals must accept partial responsibility and walk down the road of life for a turn with people truly different than themselves – something rather difficult to accomplish from the perch of a high horse.

While the depths and twists of unfortunate societal norms and why they continue to be perpetuated could be discussed and pondered endlessly by many a scholar more educated than myself, the purpose of this piece of writing is to describe a single situation in why I personally found myself in a position working to become more inclusive within my environment. As I mentioned above, I would like to think that I am an individual so in tune with my surroundings that I am consistently and boldly stepping out in everyday situations to combat behaviors that I witness obstructing such inclusivity. However, I would also like to think that I possess enough self awareness to know that this is certainly is not an accurate statement about my life. As a young adult still immersed in the substantial process of self discovery undergone during the first year of college, I will be the first to admit that there is still a lot that I am learning about how to recognize and act out in situations inhibiting inclusivity in the daily occurrences of life that I may encounter. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to been spurred along in growing in this realm through various programs and situations that, although less definitively natural, have been very enlightening in my journey of becoming more educated on the world around me and its measure of inclusivity. For me, the most influential of these programs so far has been the OU Cousins program that I had the privilege of experiencing this past fall semester.

According to the official OU Cousins website, “the OU Cousins program was created in 1996 by President and Mrs. David Boren as a way of developing understanding, friendship, and unity among U.S., International, and exchange students at the University of Oklahoma.” I first decided to join OU Cousins on a whim after listening to a presentation on it during one of the first two weeks of school at a meeting of the President’s Leadership Class. I was eager to accumulate on campus extracurriculars, and had always sustained a deep curiosity related to international affairs and cultures. The woman giving the presentation spoke glowingly of the programs possibilities, speaking of how often international students spend their entire time at OU not feeling like they ever were really able to experience the culture of the university or even the state itself. And so, I signed up.

The first event of the program is entitled the “Matching Party,” where all of the international students and all of the American students interesting in finding a “cousin” gather in Jim Thorpe to participate in a whirlwind of facilitated get-to-know-you-games and an almost speed dating-esque atmosphere designed to better acquaint students with potential Cousins. Once a partnership has been established, you register together in the computer system, exchange contact information, and make tentative plans to get together sometime in the next few weeks. For me, this partnership was found in the form of a quiet yet cheerful girl from South Korea named Juyeon. After exchanging phone numbers and yes, social media accounts, wIMG_7726e awkwardly said our farewells and walked off our separate ways. At this point in the program, I was a little bit unsure of how everything would turn out. The program itself is very loosely structured, leaving the depth of the relationship established to be almost entirely dependent on the effort put forth by the pair of cousins in question. It was clear at this point in our relationship that we weren’t entirely certain of what we had in common, if anything, besides the desire to participate in the program, on top of the fact that there was also a distinguishable language barrier between us. However, throughout the next couple of months, we grew to establish a friendship that I can assure you I never would have predicted based solely upon that fateful first day. In order to introduce her to and/or help her become more familiar with different parts of OU culture, we partook in activities ranging from simple things like eating lunch together in the Caf to attending a showing of the latest Disney movie in Meacham Auditorium to even attending a local church together after her expressed interest upon hearing about my normal Sunday schedule. When she traveled to Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday she sent me a postcard in the mail, and even presented me with a traditional Korean fan as a gift. In the final main event of the semester before her return home, we attended and OKC Thunder game together along with over 50 other pairs of OU Cousins, complete with face tattoos, overpriced concessions, and even the opportunity to take a photo on the court following the game.IMG_7776

 

Although externally we participated in many fun activities, it was the things we exchanged under the surface that I now reflect on with the greatest fondness. From learning about the educational culture she grew up in compared to what she was experiencing at OU to answering questions about seemingly normal things on the OU campus that I never would have even thought might seem confusing to someone coming from another nation, to seeing the spark in her eyes when she truly seemed to feel a part of the place she’d traveled halfway around the world to learn at, having the honor of being Juyeon’s OU cousin was one of the most unique highlights of my first semester of college. Although in hindsight I will always think of ways I could have even better attempted to enhance her time at OU and her feelings of being included, I feel that without the OU Cousins program this bridge of inclusivity may as well as not have existed at all. And while this friendship may not have formed in the most typical or natural of ways, it was the meaning and heart behind it that I will always treasure, no matter how many miles or languages come to separate us.

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Chasing the American Dream…If You Can Afford It

As the issue of funding for higher education becomes an increasingly debated, increasingly publicized, and an increasingly complex issue circulating through the American public as well as its political system, a wide array of questions begin to surface on a wide array of issues, some immediately faced in the present while others tempting theory as the future becomes progressively murky. One of such theories poses the question pondering what would happen if federal/state funding acquired a concrete cap, and how elitist schools (or the “Harvards of the world,” if you will) would handle such a financial impact on their institutions and the students that comprise it. In particular, many wonder if such establishments would move to attempt to soften the increased financial burden on students by contributing their own funds to “cover the difference,” or if they would transfer the marginal increase in financial contribution directly to students to further contribute to the elitist nature and reputation of their various programs.

When contemplating the notion of how such institutions would respond to funding shifts and how they would allow these shifts to affect their students, one must first be in full awareness of what the true mission of such institutions really are. According to the official Harvard website, the mission of Harvard College is “to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society…through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.” (https://college.harvard.edu/about/history) If institutions such as Harvard are truly striving to produce the future leaders of society, and truly believe that a liberal arts and sciences education has the power to transform a student’s life, then exclusion by means of financial capability should theoretically not be intentionally allowed to exist as a roadblock to such students’ potential Harvard experience. The very nature of the term transformative implies that some sort of transition has occurred, a change from one state of being to one completely different. This sort of transitionary aspect could take place within a variety of realms, such as pertaining to knowledge, character, professionalism, capability f.or global impact, or even financially. When an institution makes the decision to eliminate a potential pathway for transformation by narrowing the financial scope and background of the students enrolled, i.e. limiting the population to those only already possessing the financial means to afford such an education, they in turn eliminate an aspect of the diversity of their identity itself, and by extension somewhat deny the power of higher education to be a transformative tool in the lives of students from all different backgrounds and sets of resources.

 

All this to be said, one might idealistically hope that such institutions of higher educations, if so equipped, would move to absorb such new financial constraints in hopes of instead liberating their students, as opposed to constraining students in an attempt to liberate their budget/selectivity preferences. However, in the modern era, the character of higher educational systems has been heavily impacted by the fusion of the identity of a given university as a place of knowledge with a coexistence as a  place of business. According to Stephen Pelletier’s article entitled “Rethinking Revenue, “ “the erosion of traditional support from public coffers has opened the door for public universities to broaden their thinking and become more resourceful—and aggressive—about securing revenue.” (http://www.aascu.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=5569) At the end of the day, universities cannot educate if they cannot financially keep their doors open, a fact that has been emphasized to the extent that the bottom line of the university as a whole has become significantly more important than any potential bottom line of an individual student.

Another aspect of discretionary distribution of financial aid is evident in the posed question of whether or not financial aid allotments should be dependent on or influenced by an undergraduate student’s choice of major. This is quite frankly a bit of a trickier theory to ponder, particularly when trying to keep in mind how such a movement might ethically be perceived by the population as a whole, as it would require those in charge of allocating funds to decide which academic concentrations hold more value in society as a whole/should be compensated as such. Based on the argument presented in the above theory, one might conclude that no, by no means should student aid be differentiated purely based on major. One might claim that many other factors are more important indicators of merited aid, such as academic record, involvement, or even raw financial need. One might even say that if one really believes that the bare essence of education itself is so transformative, regardless of specific area, there is no reason to believe that some majors agiphy-1re more “important” than others, so long as transformative education is being achieved and transformative impact is being produced. While all this may be true, the “devil’s advocate” of blunt logistics may have a few points of his own to make. In terms of careers present in today’s society, there are some that can be designated as those that concretely serve to better society, and more of it, in more significantly observable ways than others. Particularly in occupations that require an academic and financial commitment to a certificate mandating schooling far beyond a four-year bachelor program, such as medical or law school, it is undeniable that a higher amount of raw expenses will be incurred by the student for the purpose of pursuing their education and late career. From this standpoint (and admittedly a bit of a biased one as a student currently aspiring to pursue a medically related certification requiring such prolonged educational commitment), some might throw out that to prevent discouraging such students from abandoning such society-impacting occupations for fear of greater debt, a greater financial aid commitment should be awarded. However, in the political realm, one must counter yet again with the question of whether or not such subjective and personally differentiating allocation of funds would have a chance at being smoothly received by educational institutions as well as the public at large.

In essence, the blade that is higher education serves as a profoundly double edged sword. One face represents the historic and idealistic principles on which such institutions were initially intended, echoing themes of the value of pure knowledge and the need for the universally transformative power that lies in an education. However, the other face slices the political and economic scene with the cold hard facts that reflect the current state and evolved nature of such systems, gradually leaving less and less room for true and unadulterated educational idealism. The American dream has been described as embodying “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each…” (http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/american-dream/students/thedream.html)

But will becoming richer and fuller grow to become a chance only able to be afforded by the already rich and full? Only time (and a battle of the blades) will tell.

The Secret Diploma – The Impact of College on Human Nature

dictionary.reference.com defines the term “university” as meaning

“an institution of learning of the highest level.”

In regards to the deeper examination of the notion of higher education itself, this can be viewed as a very apt and fitting definition in many senses. The concept of college, university, and the umbrella that encompasses higher education in general is perpetuated by the notion that all such institutions are driven by the concept that everything that they do, teach, implement, or aim to produce is done at the “highest level” attainable. In a bare view, this can be interpreted as providing the highest attainable academic depth of education for students in various fields and trades. However, this pursuit of education at the highest level is often incorporated into things not shown on a report card or revealed within a raw GPA. Often the most distinct and diversifying aspects of American universities are the ones that emphasize how students are being impacted beyond the bookstore or scantron sheet. College/higher education is not only a turning point in the lives of many young adults in terms of their professional and academic careers, but is also a pivotal time in determining what kind of human being an individual will transform into in their adult lives. Through making substantial and intentional strides to emphasize the development of the virtues, character, and citizenship in the modern student, institutions of higher education are able to directly impact the makeup of the society that will be leading the world of tomorrow.

Virtue. In an essence, the piece of a person that defines the nature of their being and the moral compass off of which they operate. Not everyone’s compass is the same, and part of college is allowing students to discover which ways theirs point, in which ways they will allow them to be impacted, and in which ways they will staunchly fight to firmly keep them. The virtue of a person will impact every major decision they make, how they treat others, and even what path they choose to follow throughout their life/career. By creating a culture that values WHAT kind of person you are as opposed to simply what you accomplish AS a person, universities have the opportunity to dispatch people of value as well as people who have values of their own out into the world they desire to change.

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Character. The strength, depth, and determination of character one possesses is often praised as one of the most critical aspects of what makes a truly great worker and professional peer. Once personal virtue is established, it is the resolution to uphold that same virtue that gives birth to true force of character. Establishment of true character fuels respect, trust, reliability, and a number of other key relational aspects that are in high demand in any working relationship or dynamic between human beings. By giving students real world examples of professional character and integrity through careful selection of instructors, staff, and other mentors, universities have the opportunity to provide a first hand illustration for students on what steadfast belief and commitment to personal ideas mean in a world that is perpetually flippant.

 

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Citizenship. The idea that not only do individuals hold responsibility for themselves personally, but that they have a higher responsibility to an idea and structure greater than simply the individual. Citizenship means knowing that you as an individual possess a sense of greater belonging than you can fathom, and that your identity can be impacted by what you are a citizen of just as easily as you can impact the identity of the greater body itself. It means that you understand what path of trial, tribulation, and triumph your body of allegiance has undertaken to arrive at the point you are currently connecting with it, as well as the role one plays in writing the very future path of that same body. In chapter six of his book “A Letter to America,” OU president David Boren includes an assertive quote from Bruce Cole, stating that “defending our democracy…also requires an understanding of the ideals, ideas, and institutions that have shaped our country…and why our country is worth fighting for.” By emphasizing the critical need for not only a bold sense of belonging but also a passionate awareness of the past, present, and future that impacts that belonging, universities have the opportunity to produce students not only proud of being a citizens of a nation, but students that a nation would be proud to have as citizens.

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These arguably intangible although timelessly relevant aspects of education have been a topic of discussion practically since the formation of such institutions themselves. From the earliest days of “finishing” young people to produce the best possible members of high society to the present day of bearing the burden of molding the world’s future leaders, problem solvers, and innovators in a world of persistent need, aspects of the human condition itself have been an integral component of higher education. In the words of William Bizzell taken from his 1933 convocation, “it is reasonable to assume, in the light of what is happening today, that the world into which you will go after your graduation will be vastly different from what it is today.” Although it a practical sense I would argue that the main mission of higher education in its most concrete nature remains the task of educating students in the practical fields necessary to be properly equipped to step into more complex areas of the workforce, this persistent, personal aspect cannot be ignored. While trades, facts, and figures may continue to evolve and change throughout the student educational experience, some so rapidly to the point where they can be almost rendered obsolete by the time of graduation, the personal areas of growth and discovery prompted and fostered through the higher education system will not fade no matter how the outside world transforms.

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Higher Education: A Historical Pursuit of Excellence

The American higher education movement has been one hallmarked by constant, persistent change – and rapid change at that. In comparison to other nations and cultures, some of which who took thousands of years to evolve their educational systems into what they are today, the United States has quickly escalated through many an educational milestone since its conception a relatively short 250 years ago. This can be considered partially due to the fact that the melting pot characteristic of the U.S. itself has aptly lent itself in compiling some of the greatest minds, strategies, and ideas seen by mankind for the sole purpose of creating a nation born in the modern ages, and dedicated toward propelling civilization even further down that path. Through the maze of checkpoints passed to reach what present day higher education looks like in America, it is critical to realize the significant turning points at which the U.S. made substantial leaps and movements to propel these advancements to a level of unprecedented proportions – “a point of no return,” one might say. To depict three of the most dramatic such escalations in American history, a point of no return is indeed an understatement.

Not long after the first settlers set foot on American soil, the Massachusetts Law of 1647 was passed establishing the mandate that all towns containing a minimum of 50 families would be required to employ a local schoolmaster to teach the children to read, write, and other basic forms of knowledge. At this time in history, it was not uncommon for children to simply grow up within the realm of their family and proceed to train for and become whatever profession their family had historically established, frequently without the need for any sort of formal education other than that which was passed down to them from a father, mother, or other community member. With this new law, a cultural and political norm was established that thrust formal education by a hired educator into a far more significant role. Another reason for the passage of this law was the hope that it would more aptly prepare youth to go on to attend institutions of designated higher education. With this new bridge between domestic tradition and the opportunities that came with formal and designated schooling, as well as the beginning of the establishment of a relative “track” for students to follow through an educational structure, the traditional patterns of occupation, knowledge, and communal commitment to bettering the youth through knowledge marked an extremely significant shift in the young country merely decades after its initial foundation.

Once this communal niche of youth education became mandated, established, and implemented – things would never be the same.

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As the need and desire for formally increasing the intelligence of youth was further built upon through other forms of legislation and became an increasingly key component of culture, educators, community members, and policy makers alike began to push towards a standardized way of measuring just exactly how intelligent these students were. In 1916, the modern invention of the “IQ test” was born. This intelligence quotient was a way to measure both the current status and the implied future capabilities an individual possessed in regards to the “gaining and retaining” of knowledge and intellect. Not only did this test give educators a practical and relatively proven way to sort students according to academic aptitude, but it also intensified the notion of superiority via intelligence and in turn stimulated the competitive desire for such a status. This discovery and implementation increased the capacity for disparity among students as well as cast a sharper light and pressure on the idea that a greater level of knowledge, and being able to scientifically compare yours to that of another, has the capacity to grant distinction and opportunities that vary greatly depending upon where one might fall on the scale, thus both promoting the American Dream and contradicting it in one blow.

Once a concrete way to separate students based on core intelligence was implemented and the arguable method of “sorting out” individuals based on where they might place became established and increasingly common – things would never be the same.

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In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education included in their report a recommendation that computer science be included in the requirements for high school programs across the nation. Not only was this a progressive acknowledgement of the rapidly changing times and forms of technology becoming available, but a rather progressive motion implying that it was something necessary and critical to be taught in the national school system. By choosing to equip students with the skills to effectively operate what was then still a relatively new form of technology to be diffused into the general population, America was in turn changing the way that students viewed, accessed, learned, mastered, and communicated information. In the mere 40 years since then, it has become quite clear why such a recommendation was made. The integration of computers and increasingly modern digital technology not only in education but in everyday life, the work force, and the future at large has been overwhelming if not almost frightening, changing the very nature of communication between humans and the world around them in a more significant way than perhaps many could have ever conceived.

Once computers, their opportunities, and their need became introduced and soon ingrained into the American educational culture – things would never be the same.

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Significance is always seen through whatever lens the beholder chooses to layer upon his subject. Throughout the relatively brief history of the American higher education system, and especially upon examining the Historical Timeline of American Higher Education (http://www.eds-resources.com/educationhistorytimeline.html), a frankly astronomical number of significant events have occurred to transform this uniquely American system into the complex animal that exists today. However, three of what I have determined to be the most markedly significant of such events have changed the face of this identity in a transformational way difficult to parallel. By implementing political requirements and introducing a new cultural norm, by not just hoping to introduce intelligence but to compare and compete it, and by acknowledging the changing mediums of learning and necessity, the United States truly has seen a wide spectrum of historical movements within the realm of education. But perhaps the most wonderful hallmark of all, one that you won’t find on any timeline or in any textbook, is the constant, persistent, and determined undercurrent characterizing a thirst for innovation and excellence that courses through the veins of every American student, every teacher, and every individual committed to the transformational aspect of education itself.

 

And whenever the first unknowing Americans stepped off of that boat, took a glance around, and took a stride forward in so many more ways than simply a physical step – things would ever be the same.

© 2017 Kathryn Primrose

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