Even though I said my last post – on Trumpists and Obamans – was not about higher education, in the end, of course, it was. Education is essential if we are to bring ourselves into a bright, productive future that enables the sustainability of the planet and the human race.
Today in the New York Times’ @SocialQPhilip column, a parent wrote in to ask about paying $60,000 in Tuition, when “My Son Wants to Become a Farmer”!? This speaks to a very common misconception of what education is and does. Education enables us to make the decisions that help us to live a productive life, however you may define it.
In the case of the student who is interested in spending a summer on a sustainable farm, all may not be lost. First of all, the sustainability business is huge. It’s a multi-billion dollar endeavor.
The resale industry for apparel and jewelry alone is over $4 billion a year.Sustainability is driving growth in telecom and so-called clean tech.Green construction is a major driver of the U.S. economy.
And, as the World Wildlife Foundation states, “The need for sustainable resource management is increasingly urgent.”Agriculture is a $1.3 trillion-dollar industry!
So, if a student interns at a sustainable farm to learn the brass tacks of a small operation, he or she may return to college and decide to reorient their studies to environmental science or, better yet, environmental engineering and go on to make scads of money.
A parental concern about a student’s ability to make some money is usually short-hand for their desire for their kids to learn how to create a life that is satisfying and productive. That’s why it is the one thing that comes up most often when parents talk about the cost of college. Will it be worth it?
So, let’s say the student goes to the sustainable farm internship – maybe one in Europe where he also learns another language and meets the love of his live – and returns to college and does not become an environmental scientist, but nevertheless finishes the degree, and the two, still in love, join a community somewhere on the planet. Maybe they meet a number of like-minded people who strive to live in a sustainable way. They grow some food, generate energy using solar technologies on their roofs, calculate their carbon footprint, make their homes as sustainable as possible, drive electric cars, create local businesses, teach in the schools or work in the libraries or town governmental organizations and educate others about sustainability. And the student and his now spouse decide to have a family – perhaps they adopt, maybe they are able to have their own, maybe a mixture of the two and a dog – and they live a long and happy life in a community connected to others. And in their old age, they think back on their lives and realize it all started with their college experience.
Would that be worth it?
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.