Not All Vehicles (or Degrees) Are the Same

In the last post, I discussed the ways that college education is like a car.  In extending this analogy, I also want to talk about elements of the vehicle (degree) that again, not all students really consider. 

Vehicles can indicate a great many things about a person.  Some of these things might be true and some may not; and often, the car-owner’s opportunity to explain choices comes when being asked.  The person driving a new Porsche might be perceived as financially stable and potentially successful while the one driving a beat-up shitbox be poor or a slob.  The person driving the hybrid might be understood as an environmentalist or an elitist.  Driving a big-truck and tailgating people could be understood as aggressive and anti-social behavior or someone in a rush.  The clich├ęs and stereotypes are endless; we all know them. 

A person’s degree (and the transcript, resume, etc) are going to be interpreted in many different ways, often well-before the person has a chance to defend it by a prospective employer, admissions office, etc.  That is, the degree and work in college comes with its own sense of assumptions and thoughts.  Many of which are inaccurate, but may still hold up.  For instance, a B average at an elite Ivy League school is going to be understood differently than a “B” average as a state school or community college. 

So we come to the problem at hand.  Not all degrees are equal.  Not all will open doors.  But that’s not the only problem.  Each year, the college degree becomes LESS valuable in our economy.  With 1.5 million people graduating annually with a college degree, which means the market value of a degree is substantially less.  Meanwhile, of course, the price of college continues to go up

We’re putting more money into college while the same time our education is becoming less valuable and all the while, the particular schools we go to are weighted differently.  It’s enough to send one fleeing from college and seeking alternatives and bypassing it altogether.  But if that isn’t enough to send you fleeing from the college scene (and I hope it’s not), then the question is, what can one do to improve the odds?  How do I as a student, distinguish myself above and beyond the 1.5 million others I will graduate and the millions others already with degrees. 

My thoughts on this are purely from personal experiences (my own, my friends, my family, former and present students etc). 

1.  Engage with every class.

    Some classes are required; some are choices depending on the degree.  But make it a point to take as much from each class as possible.  After all, you are paying with your time and money, get as much from the course as possible whether it is directly related to your life or not.

2.  Do the work.  

    Half-assing your way through college is clearly possible.  Many people do it in various capacities (and who am I kidding; I did my fair share of that in college).  But doing the work and doing it to its full capacity will provide you with a range of skills (such as planning and attention to detail beyond whatever the specific skills the assignment is working).

3.  Learn why you are doing the work you’re doing.

    Why are certain courses required?  Why does the instructor require or expect certain things from you?  These things are often found the school’s publications (such as student guides, syllabi, etc) and you should take the time to understand WHY; it provides you with a clearer purpose.

4.  Ask questions.

Whether your instructors like it or not, it is important to and your right to question the work and its purpose.  In fact, if it’s not clear why you are doing certain work, you should ask.  If you don’t have a clear connection, then it’s even harder to be motivated to actually do it.  So ask for clarifications about why you’re doing what you’re doing.

5.  Reflect at the end of the semester.

    Most semesters, you have been studying several different subjects for a significant amount of time.  You’ve taken in a lot of information and (hopefully) gained a good amount of skills in a very short time.  At the end of the semester (or a week or two after finals; before you sell your books back), take a few hours and review what you’ve learned and studied that semester.  The purpose is two fold.  The first is a method of congratulations; observing everything you’ve accomplished.  The other is to reinforce what you’ve learned and reinforce the different connections your brain has formed over the last few months. 

6.  Take advantages of school opportunities (events, lectures, presentations, etc).

    Don’t’ treat school as a place to take classes and go back to your life.  There are ample opportunities and things to experience on campus; much of which you are paying for with your tuition and fees anyways and might as well take advantage of regardless.  Plays, lectures, presentations, parties, and the like are available almost any day of the week on a campus.  Keep your ears and eyes open to such opportunities and go to them.  They’re often free; sometimes include free food; and can be both fun and educating—not a bad way to spend an evening.

7.   Get involved in group organizations and clubs.

    Like #6, this one is important because it gets you in more contact with your peers and others within your college.  Also, it allows you to explore an interest.  Most schools have myriad groups and clubs and there’s always something you can support, participate or attend that will benefit yourself and your college community. 

8.  Make connections with instructors.

    They’re human (most of them are, I swear!).  They don’t want to see you as automatons and it’s in your interest that you make yourself a human being in their eyes.  Not just for the course, but beyond.  Building strong connections with all your instructors will result not only in a pool of people for you to get recommendations from but it also widens your professional network.  There have been several times where past instructors have been the key to getting new jobs or exploring new opportunities for me and many others.  But most importantly, instructors teach because they enjoy the classroom dynamic and they like to know their students; it makes the experience for both instructor and student more valuable. 

9.  Make it a point to meet people within your field and beyond your field.

    Like #8, meeting people within your field at the school and beyond is in your best interest to keep up with and get ahead in your field.  Learn to meet and interact with the faculty in your field but also don’t hesitate to engage others in fields that are not yours, particularly if it is something you are interested in, but not necessarily directly studying.  The fact is just because you are going for Degree in Subject X, does not guarantee you will get a job in Subject X and having contacts in Subject Y or W (both of which may be similar to Subject X) may prove useful in the long run. 

10.  Pace yourself.

    Everyone wants to get done sooner than later.  Students pile up lots of classes each semester and push to get it all done and over with.  Unfortunately, this tends to invoke the fable of the tortoise and the hare.  The student who believes they can get through it all, often takes 6 or so courses and ends up scrambling the first 2 months of the semester; doing poorly in all courses.  Finally, the student drops 1-2 of the courses (adding another W to their transcript), just in time to manage only doing marginally decent in the remaining classes.  Don’t rush your education; go at a pace that allows you to do well in your work.  Otherwise, you’re wasting time (in all those classes you withdraw from) and money (the books, extra commuting, re-taking the courses). 

As I said, these aren’t sure-fire ways to distinguish yourself, but they certainly help and turn your education more into just a degree; but something meaningful to you as a person.



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Of Cars and Education; Things I Wish I Realized In College

A college education is like a car.  We own and use cars for a variety of reasons including (but not limited to):

  1. Travelling more efficiently (essentially reclaiming time)
  2. Getting to new places (Not entirely the same as reclaiming time—and that will make sense below).
  3. It is a requirement of where we live/work (Living in certain suburbs, it does become a practical requirement and some jobs do require or provide a vehicle).
  4. Cruising about to enjoy the sights (That is, merely enjoying the act of driving and what it offers).

Before any of that can happen though, one needs a license, first.  The license is a great achievement; it indicates some sense of competency in driving (This is the same with a high school diploma or GED certificate.).  It doesn’t imply you will automatically get a car or that you will be a masterful driver; but merely that the state has deemed you knowledgeable to drive a vehicle (The student has proven a certain level of competency but it doesn’t guarantee the opportunity to get a college education).  

Not All Students Start At the Same Place

However, just like when people get behind the wheel, not all drivers are equal (Not all students start off at the same place).  Some are great drivers; some are not.  Some need to pay extreme attention to all details of driving; others manage to consistently text and drive at the same time (Some people do well without trying; others don’t and need to devote even more time than the average student).  While some of this is within the driver’s control, a significant amount isn’t.  The driver will be influenced by how much time he or she had in training (Students—and often parents—who have put more time and energy into their education are more likely to have initially better results).  Her or his skills will be in part powered by how much her socio-economic forces helped her or him to be prepared for the driving environment (Students’ background can affect how prepared they are for college as well as how much actual time and resources they can dedicate to the endeavor).  Of course, there’s also a lot that is beyond the driver’s control.  The good driver is still subject to and influenced by a variety of structural forces such as police enforcement, roadway signage and lights, traffic flow, etc, and chance such as other negligent drivers, weather, car problems, etc (Even good students are going to be impacted by tuition hikes, mistakes made by school administrators, or faculty, schedule conflicts, etc) .  And finally, the driver is responsible for a variety of technical, bureaucratic, and financial upkeep in order to keep driving which includes renewing licenses, registering vehicles, filling the gas tank, getting/performing oil changes and other car maintenance, regular inspections, car insurance and the like (Students too need to consistently register, acquire books, check in with advisors, etc).

So let’s look at the reasons for getting a car (or college education.

1.  Travelling more efficiently (essentially reclaiming time)

    Drivers often own a car because it saves time; it frees them to do more things they want to do without using public transportation, their own legs, or other (perceived) slower modes of transporation.  However, a certain investment of time and money is needed in order to acquire the car that includes the aforementioned license, researching and purchasing a car, registering it, and the various financial and technical upkeep.  For some, this means having to work even more and cancelling out some of the reclaimed time.

    Students often look at college as an investment to improve their financial situation.  That is, this investment of work and effort should result in a larger return for their work.   Getting better paid means they can afford more things and or work less (get more out of less work is essentially reclaiming time). But students don’t often realize that this is an investment; which entails time, money, and risk.  There is no guarantee that education will result in improved financial opportunities (more on this later). 

2.  Getting to new places.

    Though this is similar to the above, it’s not exactly the same.  The above is generalized; a car will make coming and going to any place quicker.  But here, there is often a specific direction,  destination, or opportunities afforded to car-owners.  The car will allow one to go to drive in theaters, do a road trip, pick up hitchhikers, actually drive-through a drive through (granted, not all of these are glorious and exciting, but the idea is that the car opens up new places to you; even new associations such as AAA).  This could also be understood as car-culture and its possibilities.

    Similarly, students often approach their degree in these clear terms.  A teaching degree will allow me to teach; a business degree will open up positions in business.  But a degree, will also open up different opportunities and access a potentially different culture with its own set of expectations, restrictions, and prospects.  Again, the degree here is a potential door-opener, but not a guarantee.  A teaching degree won’t guarantee a teaching job will appear (or that you will be the most qualified applicant).  The degree opens up a student’s choices, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities will necessarily be there (or their degree alone will provide for them). 

3.  It is a requirement of where we live/work (Living in certain suburbs, it does become a practical requirement and some jobs do require or provide a vehicle).

    Some jobs require vehicles.  Often pizza delivery jobs require the person to have a car.  Taxi-cab drivers need a car (whether their own or companies).  In many suburbs, living without a vehicle is extremely difficult to the point of impossibility.  In this case, the car (or whatever vehicle) becomes central in order to properly perform the job.  Without it, the person is rendered useless or at least severely unqualified.

    Here again, the degree as a requirement to work can be seen within the nursing field and engineering.  Equally, some jobs require the degree within a certain amount of time of work; such as teachers being required to get their Master’s Degree within a few years of starting their job (if they don’t outright require it before they start teaching).

4.  Cruising about to enjoy the sights (That is, merely enjoying the act of driving and what it offers).

    Some people love to drive.  Put them in a car and they’ll go.  They’ll enjoy just the act of driving; in a car, moving about the roads; feeling the beautiful machinery at work under their fingertips; enjoying the breeze of movement.  To them, the mere act of driving is rewarding and pleasurable.

    At this level, these are students who appreciate the intellectual challenges and elements that college has to offer.  They see the apparatus (car/college) as means of stimulation and engagement with their own inner world.  For some, they are life-long learners and simply appreciate the ways in which college can play a role in that view.  For others, they learn within college what it means to be engaged with intellectually and realize how rewarding it can be.

    Granted, many see this last one as one that’s afforded to those who have the leisure and resources to merely focus on the act of self-enlightenment.  That is, within it, there are hints of classism.  I’m not entirely sure I believe that, or rather, it doesn’t have to be the case.  In fact, I would encourage students to always keep this measure at the back of their heads as they move through their education.  In the end, college is important and is hopefully useful in the first three ways, but can (and should) also be a time in which the student as a person develops and grows; learning not only about the world around them, but his or herself as well.



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Freeway Flyers Blog Post

Unions Don’t Always Go Hand-in-Hand

Of late, I’m feeling like Jurgis; the protagonist of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Of course, my situation (as of right now) is not as dire, but the sentiment and issues still seem to be percolating.

The concern over adjunct faculty and their place within higher education has certainly gotten attention over the last two months.  While the Boston Globe dedicates a full article, The Nation certainly talks about (or at least around) the subject.  Meanwhile both The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed continue to make mention of and discuss some of the concerns of the ever-growing adjunct faculty nation in Academe.  Meanwhile, adjunct faculty are voicing their own outright opposition to the status quo in hopes of creating a solidarity movement across campuses and secure rights for adjunct faculty who are largely left in some rather Kafkaesque situations.

To read the full article, check it out here at Adjunct Nation.



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Have You Heard About My Sordid Affair?

“That’s cheating.”  I hear it all the time, but I’m not listening.     And so what if it is?  I’m Rhett Butler and “I don’t give a damn.”  I’ve carried on with this illustrious affair for more than half my life now.  In fact, it’s been highly profitable and entertained me for thousands of hours.  It was a curiosity thing at first.  I simply flirted and fooled around.  But somewhere along the lines, it turned into something more; it got serious.  I never construed it as “cheating” because I believed this relationship afforded me something that I couldn’t get elsewhere at certain times and places in my life.  Quite honestly, it was a harmless endeavor that hurt no one directly and while it did on occasion cost me some money to add some gadgets to the mix, it worked out best for everyone in the end.

Audiobooks--My Kryptonite

I’m talking of my love for audiobooks of course.  Those hard-to-pinpoint products that some insist on as “it's not reading” while others swear (including Stephen King) by it.  While it is aurally-oriented instead of visually oriented, the fact remains, processing the story still takes place and is influenced by a range of factors within the text (such as font size/type, book format—paperback, hardcover, etc—pictures, layout, chapter header designs, etc) all of which color (sometimes literally) what we experience in reading.  Similarly with listening incurs a range of factors from the narrator to the sound quality to the format (CDs, cassettes, MP3s, etc) that influences how one hears.  But at the end, both have experienced the story.  That becomes the central piece here.  The idea behind reading is to experience the story and in both cases, that occurs.  Of course, the argument is that a reader analyzes it better than the listener, but that’s only because we have been more trained to be cautious and aware of reading nuances.  A well-verse listener could also making all sorts of insights about a piece he/she listened to (in fact, currently working on an article for a book, doing just that).  (Note:  By and large, I’m talking here about unabridged audiobooks which translates the text word for word—mostly: usually, it skips footnotes, maps, and other supplemental material).  Ok—that part of this rant is over.

So what moves me with audiobooks?  Many consider them a snore-fest or feel they “can’t get into them.”  Of course, their experience usually consists of listening to one and deciding to be done with it.  Rather silly.  If that were the case with reading, very few readers would exist.  The fact is, just like we can “see” well before we can read, we also can hear, well before we can listen.  For many, listening to audiobooks should be a gradual process in which they figure out a few different things about their listening preferences.

1.  Place.

 If you sit down to listen to an audiobook in your living room with nothing else; you most likely fall asleep.  This ISN’T because the narrator is boring.  This has to do with the fact that in a quiet space with someone reading to you without any other stimuli, is a natural invitation to sleep (after all, for many of us our parents read us stories for bed and even if they didn’t, the idea of a voice in a peaceful environment probably has some correlations to our existence in the womb).  Not all places will work for people but some of the most popular include while doing chores, commuting (by car, legs, or public transportation), or even while waiting in line or running errands like grocery shopping.  For many, like myself, the goal is to use audiobooks when my body (but not necessarily my mind) need to be engaged.

2.  Genres.

Not everyone likes every genre and more importantly, genre interest does not always cross forms.  People who like to read science-fiction may abhor science-fiction films.  People who enjoy chick-lit maybe be repulsed by the “chick flick”.  Realize that you’ll enjoy certain genres in one form that you might not elsewhere. 

3.  Narrative format.  

Some people love single-voice narrators, others like multiple narrators within a production, and still some prefer male over female narrators.  These  too can sway your interest for the book and it takes some time, trial, and error to determine what you like.


4.  Audio format.  

If I can’t get it in (or put it into) MP3, I’m immediately not a fan of it.  The reason is because for me, it’s easier.  Given how much I listen, I would rather have a CD with 700 MBs of MP3 audiobooks (about 30 hours) instead of an audio CD (with a measly 80 minutes) and we won’t even talk about how many hours my mp3 player has. 

There are other facets for gaining audio-literacy but maybe that’s for another post.  Hopefully, it is sufficient enough for people to realize and ponder their listening-literacy.    I want to get back to why I love audiobooks.  See, many people confuse listening to audiobooks for being lazy.  But many of the audiobook addicts I know, it has nothing to do with this.  The fact is, I listen to audiobooks because I love stories.  Many of my friends have heard me say this and it’s still true (thousands of audiobooks later).  I don’t listen because I hate reading.  I listen, because I could spend EVERY WAKING MOMENT of my life reading all the books in the world, and by the time I died, I still wouldn’t have gotten to half of the books that I’ve wanted to cover.  So, audiobooks allow me an excellent avenue to get exposure to that much more knowledge and more stories.  In doing so, it has also introduced me to a great many narrators whom I’ve gotten to interview or just admire from afar, including Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki, Alan Sklar, Barbara Rosenblat, Grover Gardner, Simon Jones, Phil Gigante, Jim Dale, and William Dufris, among many others.

It’s also worth noting that there are hundreds of thousands of audiobooks available.  It used to be hard to acquire them but nowadays, between extensive library networks, digital download sites such as audible.com and iTunes, communal efforts (like the great folks at Librivox) and other resources (legal or pirated), provide for an abundance of listening for anything you’re interested in.



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