Category Archives: Education

Is access to higher education a right?

One of my favorite songs from the musical In The Heights is “96,000.”  The main character, Usnavi, discovers that someone in the neighborhood has won the lotto for $96,000.  The song is about what each character would do with all of that money ranging from moving out of the barrio to paying off debt to getting a new hair weave.  In all cases, $96K would completely change the life of the winner.

And as I was watching this video tonight it struck me.

$96,000 is not enough to pay for a Bachelor’s Degree at many universities and colleges in the USA.

Actually, many undergraduate degrees are twice this amount!  I know I am not the first person to point this out.

Yesterday Seth Odell tweeted,

tweet on higher education

An excellent question that sparked a lot of conversation including,

tweet on higher education as a right is education a righttweet is higher education a right answer

I guess we have to start at the definition of what a “right” is and if we look to the constitution or the Bill of Rights… well as Katie pointed out, neither document articulates a right to education.

But we have all seen the information released that graduating from college helps you earn more in your lifetime.  And most recently the numbers show that college educated individuals are more likely to be employed in general.

So if higher education is the numero uno ticket to long-term success… how can it not be a right?

Seth phrased his question well asking if “access” to higher education is a right.

I think there is a fundamental difference between the right to higher education and the right to access higher education.

And personally, I believe access to higher education should be a right.

Does this mean we should all get to go to Harvard?  No.  To me this means that you should have a choice of institutions to attend even if you were born in a low-income area, even if your parents aren’t able to afford an expensive education, even if you don’t win the lottery.

If access to higher education is being hindered by extremely high tuition costs, what does that say about the right to access higher ed?  Who is out there defending that right?  Or maybe I am out of line and it isn’t a right at all.

This is kind of a huge topic…

…and I will admit that I have not done extensive research on the lengthy debate of this subject.  And truthfully, I don’t care if you have either!  I’m very curious to find out what you think.  Let’s keep this conversation rolling.

Molding young minds

Last night I was given the honor to speak to the inductees of the National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society at my high school alma mater, Chateaugay Central School.

What do you say to a bunch of academically-driven high school students in only 10 minutes?  How do you say it in a way that they’ll actually pay attention?

Naturally I decided to talk about Facebook, throw in a Rebecca Black reference, and give them tips for applying to college.  The theme of the speech was “by working hard you can achieve great things.”  When the night was over I heard from numerous students and parents that this was one of the few speeches they actually listened too.  That felt good.

I decided to post the speech here for my readers to see, comment on, offer constructive criticism to.  Who knows, maybe one day they’ll invite me to speak at Graduation.

June 2, 2011 – Chateaugay Central School NHS and NJHS induction

“Good evening everyone.  I am honored to be speaking tonight at your Academic Awards ceremony and National Honors Society induction.
So naturally I am going to start by talking to you about Facebook!

Students… raise your hands…

How many of you have a Facebook Profile?
Keep your hand raised if you have written on your friend’s wall or commented on their photos.
Have you have “liked” a Page or joined a Facebook Group.
And what about YouTube… How many of you have watched a video on YouTube?

Look around the room.  Nearly every student has their hand raised right now, or had it raised at some point in the last minute.

When I was in high school, not a single one of those websites existed.

Facebook launched right about the time I graduated from high school and YouTube was created during my freshman year in college.

Why am I telling you this?  Because if those sites didn’t exist and you hadn’t just raised your hand, I wouldn’t have a job right now.

These companies, that are part of our everyday lives, did not exist when I was sitting here being inducted into National Honor Society 10 years ago.  And, these companies were founded by teens and 20 something year olds.  People who are not much older than you or I.

In all of those hours you have spent social networking have you ever stopped to think that there are very real people, you are looking at one in fact, whose job is to leverage those sites and use them for marketing purposes?  I go to work every day and immediately log into Facebook, sign on to Twitter, and pull up YouTube.  I am tasked with creating content that will grab the attention of a high school student.  I have a very cool job, right?  Saint Michael’s College pays me to Facebook.

But my job is more than just facebooking.  Facebook might be the tool that I use, but my job is actually about understanding HOW you think, HOW you communicate, and WHAT is important to you.  Think of it as the psychology of a high schooler.

I need to be able to talk your language so that I can craft messages and videos that will get your attention.  If you are singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” – I better be singing it too.  My job is to understand you.

So here I am.  Working online on websites that did not exist when I was your age.  And it is very likely that you will one day work in a job that does not currently exist.  It is really difficult to imagine that, isn’t it?  How can you possibly prepare for something that doesn’t exist?

The world is changing, faster than ever before.  And you are expected to keep up with those changes.  But how do you do it?

The work that you are doing in the classroom today is molding you into who you will become tomorrow.  If you work hard now you will be given opportunities in the future.  You might think that by making time to study extra hard for that History test or staying during double to work with Mrs. Johnston on your math homework is only affecting your grade or your performance in class right now.

That’s not true.  By putting in the extra effort you are shaping your personality and who you are as a student.  You are showing your dedication to actually understanding the classwork, not just getting the best grade.  You are becoming a role model for your peers.  Your actions are saying, “I value education.”  Imagine what a classroom would look like if every student gave 110% all the time.

By going the extra mile now you are setting yourself up for a bright future.  I spent two years working in the Admission office at St. Mike’s.  I interviewed high school seniors interested in attending college, read their essays and recommendation letters, and made the decisions as to whether or not we would offer them acceptance to the college. Who was accepted?  The students who clearly had worked hard.

That doesn’t mean that they didn’t struggle from time to time.  Working hard means to be focused. It means that at any given moment you are doing what is important.  Working hard means to go the extra step.  It means revising your essay or redoing your homework when you are given the opportunity – not just for a better grade but so you learn from your mistakes.

Now don’t tell my boss, but I am going to give you three insider tips for getting into college.

Your senior year grades are the most important of them all.  If you are an athlete looking to play basketball in college… would you quit the team senior year?  That just doesn’t make sense!  Senior year is the most important – you want to be a starter and make it to the Final Four and have college scouts recruit you.  You are working hardest senior year.

Think of academics in the same way.  Senior year should be your most difficult year.  Colleges want to see 4 years of math, science, and a foreign language on your transcript.  Senior year is your final preparation for difficult college work.  Study hard, don’t sit the bench.

Your essay should be about you, not about your game-winning goal or a biography of a relative.  Your essay is the one place in your entire college application where you have 800 words to say anything you want.  The best essay I ever read was from a student who visited monks in Tibet, his experience interacting with their community and how fascinated he was by their lifestyle.  The essay ended with a beautiful line about how the monk was actually more fascinated with the kid’s braces than anything else.  A very unexpected ending to a beautiful story.  What did it show me?  That this student appreciated a global society, other cultures, and had a great sense of humor.  How could I not want a student like that at St. Michael’s?

High school is the time to find your passion – whether it is playing the tuba, being a champion for clean energy, or volunteering your time to tutor elementary students.  My mistake in high school was thinking I had to do everything in order to get into college.  And that is just not true.  Colleges want to see that you have pursued your passions versus signing up for French Club because you think it will look good on your application.  And believe me.  Colleges can tell the difference.

Now since we have been talking about Facebook I am going to give you Bonus Tip #4.

If you wouldn’t say it to Mrs. Andre (the principal), don’t write it online.  Even if you delete a comment, it is never truly gone.  The last thing you want to do is ruin all the hard work you’ve done academically in less than a second.

Facebook, Myspace, Twitter – they are all vauable and powerful tools when used correctly.

So be smart and safe online.  Give everything you write or post the “Mrs Andre test.”

So to bring this full circle I want to get back at my question: How can you possibly prepare for something that doesn’t exist?

I worked hard in high school to arrive at college where I had to work harder to do well academically and be recognized.  I received a strong liberal arts education and had the opportunity to study at Oxford University, this has prepared me for my career not just my first job.  And I worked hard in that place in order to enter the workforce when the economy slipped and jobs weren’t readily available.  I looked for a job in an economy that told me I had to work even harder to get noticed.  And so I did.

And now I work in a position that was created for me because my work ethic, dedication, and academic success was recognized and appreciated.  And now I am given the opportunity to speak at conferences all over the nation to people who are more than twice my age… and they regard me as an expert in my field.  Why?  Because I work hard and that started here at CCS where I learned the importance of scholarship, leadership, service to my community, the importance of character.

I’m speaking to the best and the brightest that Chateaugay Central School has to offer.  You should be very proud of yourselves.  You are the academic leaders of this high school.  What are you doing with that power?  How are you making your high school and your community a better place?

And don’t forget to think outside the box when it comes to your career.  Most of you will work for a company or in a job that does not exist right now.  Prepare yourself, give everything you do 100%, and next time your mom tells you to get off Facebook – just tell her you’re doing it for me.

Thank you.”

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