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Confessions of a Media Professor: Practical College Advice for University Students of Tomorrow

English: students online
For those that may not know, one of my many hats is media instructor for a prominent online university. I've been teaching students online for several years now. I have also taught at a few brick-and-mortar universities, big and smaller. And while as an instructor, teaching students face-to-face really is incredibly rewarding, I can't but help admire my online students who often have to juggle full time jobs, families, illness sometimes, and the pressures of post postmodern life with papers and chapter readings and media exercises.

The reality is that in twenty years, the university will not look like it does today. Going to college for four years of sheer fraternity bliss will be a thing of the past, or at least only for those few lucky enough to have mommy and daddy foot the bill.

The reality is that kids today are growing up in a society that is ever uncertain, in terms of jobs and economy and family life and even war. A kid today is more likely to be growing up povertystricken with the odds stacked against them than in a moderately middle class home where the parents are not trying to scrounge to pay the bills with a few jobs between them. And while there are still those families whose biggest problem is whether to go with the 60 inch plasma screen TV or the $25k kitchen cabinets, these are a blessed few (and in all honestly, most of those folks are just riding their credit card debt to financial disaster). 

So what does this mean?

This means that in the future a college student will need to be more economical when choosing their university. Going to college will mean:

  • Little to no college debt
  • Practical choices like online colleges or community college
  • Living with parents longer (room and board doubles college costs)
  • Choosing "marketable" degrees 
  • Working full time or part time while studying
  • Having less options for need-based grants as the pool of applicants explodes

And if you are on your way to college soon, or are already there, then you might want to reconsider how you are pursuing your education.

As a teen I had enough sense to opt out of going $50K in student loans for a music degree, but not everyone makes that choice. 

Your student loans need to 
make sense in light of your degree. 

Going into Philosophy or Humanities or History or even Law? Then be sure that the job market can support your degree, because currently the only "stable" fields are in engineering, computers, and health. 

Community college, part-time classes, or even taking an online class or two, or even vocational classes, may be a smarter bet in the long run. 

Refocus your American dream. 

We aren't in the 1950s, so the big house, two cars, private education for your kids, and beautiful white picket fence neighborhood isn't necessarily in the cards for everyone (nor would you want it to be). 

There are many options that make more sense like sensible urban or rural living, renting over buying too early, home education or online education instead of expensive private school education (if you live in a bad school district like my family does), one car and commuting by bike or by foot, telecommuting, working online instead of per hour (working online often can bring home as much as most low paying jobs, without extra hassles of childcare), buying less - not more, opting for simplicity and experience over things and corrosive consumerism.

Despite the news pundits and Talking Heads, the reality is that depending on your demographic, most Americans are going through a very real economic depression

What this means is that Americans need to be smarter about their college education, which is still necessary to succeed in our society. 

What this means is that universities need to change to fit the changing demographics of the college student population.

What this means is that the Talking Heads need to be ignored as they chat about a lifestyle that is not a reality for most Americans.

What this means is that individual Americans need to turn off the cable, ignore the commercials, and make good decisions based upon their real situation and not a perceived and now-defunct American dream.

What this means is that we as a generation need to redefine the American Dream and make it very real for our families and for our posterity. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Share it with your friends and share your own thoughts about the direction of a college education below in the comments. 

Sabrina Peña Young is an award-winning composer, writer, and humanities professor who directed/produced the "groundbreaking" opera Libertaria: The Virtual Opera and continues to challenge the very definition of classical music.



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