Diversity -- no other term appears as frequently on university promotional material as this one.
In all its permutations "diversity" has emerged as the buzzword nonpareil for the higher-educational industry.
But like any other word, "diversity," when employed too promiscuously, tends to become inert. Emptied of meaning, it comes to signify anything but; its ubiquity tends instead to breed a uniform effect. Every diverse institution comes to resemble other diverse institution, until the panoply of institutions begins to look not too terribly diverse for all the diversity on display.
Behind all this standard-issue diversity lurks a particular irony: most colleges and universities harbor far more diversity than they could ever encompass in their viewbooks or websites. This includes a diversity of purposes to which their clientele may wish put their education.
To many, higher learning means less cultivating an appreciation for Shakespeare's sonnets or vector sums than it does creating a spreadsheet or change an exhaust system. "Education after high school is becoming increasingly important in today's job market," an article appearing in the January 30, 2011 edition of Ohio's The Newark Advocate reports.
But that education, experts say, doesn't necessarily have to be a bachelor's degree. "We're graduating to something, not from high school," said Beth Bronkar, Career Development Coordinator at the Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County. In Licking County, the postsecondary education could be through C-TEC Adult Education, Central Ohio Technical College, Ohio State University's Newark campus, Denison University and more. C-TEC and COTC have programs geared toward training the work force. At COTC, the new Workforce Development and Innovation Center will provide credits for some of its customized training programs.
Postsecondary programs in Licking County, Ohio and elsewhere address a rampant problem confronting many college-aged people: They may have the desire to pursue higher education, but they lack the time.
Only recently has the procrustean nature of traditional higher education entered popular consciousness. Individual freedom of various sorts is a prerequisite for that veritable palace of prerequisites, the liberal arts college. Freedom to relocate, to attend class during working hours instead of ... well ... working, from the burdens of child-rearing or caring for dependents -- these among many others typically prevent otherwise perfectly capable potential students from becoming actual ones.
One COTC success story, Bryanna Stigger, attests to the virtue of flexibility in higher education. Stigger, the article reports,
chose COTC so she could live at home and have the flexibility to still be involved around Newark. She is taking online classes toward her bachelor's degree so she can continue to work at COTC, volunteer at My Place to Be with autistic children and work at the YMCA.
Flexibility may be a veritable godsend for students who at one time could only dream of pursuing postsecondary education, but it is nothing without adequate funding. Fortunately, this appears at the moment to be in ample supply. "American students and their families value getting a college degree more than ever, but most aren’t able to pay for it entirely from their own savings," reports a January 30, 2011 article in The State News, the student newspaper of Michigan State University. "In 2010, student borrowing contributed to an average of 14 percent of the total cost of each undergraduate student surveyed. Grants and scholarships made up 23 percent, "the article continues. "Parent borrowing made up 10 percent. And parent income and savings contributed to 37 percent."
Even a casual glance at news headlines reveals the fact that in present economic circumstances higher education is indispensible. The State News article quotes Sallie Mae spokeswoman Patricia Nash Cristel, who observes that "'[e]specially in a time of economic uncertainty ... two-thirds of parents and students indicated that they strongly agree that a college degree is more important now than ever.'"
Many students' parents economize if necessary in order to make tuition payments on behalf of their college-going children. "At least 36 percent of students said they had to borrow in some form, but 64 percent of parents contributed to the cost of their children’s tuition at least partially as well," the article reports. "More than 70 percent of parents also noted that they reduced their spending as a cost-saving measure, and a little less than half said they worked more hours to bring in greater earnings."
"By hook or by crook" seems fairly to sum up the general attitude among Americans towards higher education -- whether this education is for themselves or their offspring. Such urgency would be simply discouraging were it not for the fact that colleges and universities have been diversifying their product as a way of expanding access to it. This could make all the difference between borrowing against the future and mortgaging it.