The College of 2020: My Son

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I don’t intend to insert myself too often into this blog. I want primarily to pass along good information, and thought-provoking viewpoints.

But I also want to give some background on why this topic is so important to me. You see, my oldest child will graduate from high school in 2020. So when I think about the college of 2020, I am thinking about my son, and his future. I wonder how well his education is preparing him for a digital, hyper-connected future. I am not the only one who wonders about such things.

My son loves TV and movies. He can get on the computer or play Wii just about anytime he wants. But he usually chooses reading or writing. Mostly, he seems to learn well in groups. He put together a movie in summer camp this year with two kids his age, one of whom knew more about online video editing than most adults. The result is a dreamy wistful piece that might be the first item I grab if our house catches fire. And I wonder how his schooling reinforces such meandering? It doesn’t.

It’s easy to get obsessed as a parent about how well even a 9-year-old is prepared for college. But then, I try to step out of that thought process and think more realistically: My son may never go to college. More likely, he will not define college in the same way I did. The college of 2020 will look a lot different, in fact, it won’t be “traditional” college at all. My son is far more likely to go to several colleges before getting a degree, to take part-time classes, to take a class online, to gain credit for work experience. As an artsy kid, he is going to spend a lot of time writing, and needing one-on-one encouragement. It’s a different kind of learning, the kind most colleges today are not very good at. I believe they will get better, or he will find the kind of encouragement, feedback and learning he needs somewhere else.

There is a fairly good chance he will never really identify with an alma mater the way most of us do. He may never set foot in a dorm, or a campus rec center. His lab work, if any, may be entirely virtual. He may never set foot on a campus at all, except for perhaps the day he graduates.

All of these scenarios are an even more likely outcome for his 6-year-old brother.

I have the concerns most parents have. I need my children to know they are supported and loved, I need to expose my kids to travel and as many life experiences as possible, I need to save more for their education.

But I also have optimism about their college educations. I believe that colleges are about to undergo fundamental changes, driven by competition, deep consumer skepticism, the need to cut costs, and by a crying need for increased productivity. The college of 2020 will be a collection of community driven ideas that focus on learning rather than teaching. The implications of those changes are profound, but necessary. The American system of higher education, as it is currently constituted, is simply unsustainable.

I believe that much of this will happen while my children are still children. And I believe they will be better people because of it.

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Martin Van Der Werf

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