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Commentary: Students must actively engage in their education

Elizabeth+Bleicher+writes+about+the+importance+of+students+taking+advantage+of+educational+opportunities+in+college.+
Aminatta Imrana Jallow
Elizabeth Bleicher writes about the importance of students taking advantage of educational opportunities in college.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

One of the many benefits of becoming an educated person is that you become harder to take advantage of. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “When you train your mind how to think, you inoculate yourself against those who desperately want to tell you what to think.” I teach to empower students to make informed choices, actively shape their futures and argue with me, so they can evolve their thinking and figure out what they believe for themselves.

So, imagine what it does to my head to hear a student brag, “I skipped most of my classes and still got a B-,” or “I’m graduating and never set foot in the library.” The breathtaking ignorance, the willing embrace of the lie that education is equivalent to a diploma, guts me every time. 

This is not the place to share the competing theories about the purpose of college that I teach and research. I loathe the consumerist model of education, predicated on the assumption that college is merely a commercial transaction. But I will use that language in the hopes of conveying the urgency of what is at stake. 

You are not paying for a college degree.

To treat college this way is to participate in your own exploitation and oppression. 

You are paying for access to an enormous abundance of curated experiences designed for you by experts, and the material and human resources that designing and offering these experiences entails. 

You are only paying for access. Seriously. That’s it.

In my first year of college, a friend described a hard conversation he had with his best friend back home over break. “My friend said college changed me. I said, ‘I sure as hell hoped so because I am not paying all this money to stay the same.’” Hence, the biggest rip off of all: when you don’t go to class, you are not accessing the one experience for which you pay the most, and around which all the other experiences and resources are built. You are not showing up for yourself.

Let’s do a little ballpark math based on Ithaca College’s estimate of annual cost of attendance. Missing one three-credit class that meets three times a week costs you $179; if it meets twice a week, you blew $268 to take a nap. If it’s once a week, you lit $536 on fire.  And skipping class is addictive. You do it once, nothing bad happens. You do it twice. Before you know it, things snowball, and it’s too embarrassing to go back or dig your way out of the hole you dug yourself into.

I’m not saying every class period is a life-changing event. Some days I am off my game, or I am the one out sick. I try to make it up to my students in the least annoying way. But I am saying that when you show up for yourself, the time you spend deliberately interacting with a particular group of people to study a chosen subject is the catalyst for your personal change. It has the potential to generate something different, weirder or better than spending that time alone or not investing that time and energy at all. Every class period is a curated lab experiment, the outcome of which is determined by its class members. But nothing can happen if you do not suit up and show up. At least, nothing can happen for you.

The recipe for college success is posted on the walls in Williams Hall. It is simple, but not always easy. 

  1.     Go to class.
  2.     Do the work.
  3.     Ask for help.

Call it a four-week challenge, make it a bet with a friend, do whatever it takes, but try it for a month. I promise it will change your life. And when (not if!) any part of this practice gets hard, come see us in the Center for Student Success, which is  — wait for it — one of the resources you are paying to access. Added bonus: learning to do requirements even when you don’t love them is a valuable life skill. And sometimes learning how to solve problems with a course is more important to your personal education than is the course content. 

Show up for yourself. Don’t skip class. Don’t rip yourself off. Because this is just too expensive a lesson to learn the hard way.

Elizabeth Bleicher (she/her) is the dean for Student Success and Retention. Contact her at [email protected]

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    SumeetaFeb 23, 2024 at 11:31 pm

    Loved it , every student should read it first day of college .
    It’ll change the way they think of college .

    Reply