In 250 WordsThoughts, Feelings

In 250 Words: Why Get a Postsecondary Education?

I’m still completely absorbed with looking for the deep meaning of education (thanks in no small part to John Hannah’s Open Letter to Students), but my early investigations continue to come back again and again to one undeniable fact: students want jobs. They want them while they study (did y’all know education is expensive?), but they really want them when they’re done with postsecondary. When it’s time to start paying back OSAP or that line of credit. Even if they were lucky enough to avoid debt, thus starting the game “Working Adult” at 0 (rather than -40,000), our students graduate with a desire to be employed in their field, to establish meaning to their lives, feel fulfilled, and have a purpose beyond just themselves. And frankly, why shouldn’t they? I wanted those things when I graduated—I still want those things in my life.

There’s no question that “to get a job” and “to make more money” are two very important answers to the question: “Why get a postsecondary education?” As student affairs professionals, it’s our job (especially here at Ryerson) to support students as they build their whole selves, and professional development is an important pillar in that process.

But it’s not the only pillar. In fact, it’s only 1 of 5 here at Ryerson. Our jobs exist in that time/space known as postsecondary, and though we are concerned with what comes before and will go after, the place of education and growth is our realm. I think it’s important—nay, our duty—to remind students that these classrooms are not just about the end goal, but the process along the way. Let them not forget about the other pillars—Learning, Community, Personal Development, and Mental Well-Being—and in fact teach them along the way.

So I bugged my colleagues again, and in this month’s 250 Words I asked them: “Why get a postsecondary education?” with the caveat that they were not allowed to say “to get a job” or “for the money.” Here’s what they had to say:

Knowledge is Power and Power is Change

by Akeisha Lari, BSW, B.Ed, M.Ed (and more to come…)

In the first class of my Bachelor of Education at OISE, we had to create our “Philosophy of Education”. We were asked to think about our experience with the education system and relate it to why we were in Teacher’s College. I love school, and always have. I immediately started writing words like: learning, excitement, love, knowledge, happy, important, future, goals, change, impact—and it became apparent to me that education was/is/probably will always be the centre of who I am.

My Philosophy of Education was officially created in September 2008 and has been in the works since I fell in love with learning as a two year old attending Montessori School:

”Knowledge is Power and Power is Change”

 Get a postsecondary education because with the knowledge you obtain, you have the power to better understand our world. And with that power, you have the ability to make change and impact our world in a positive way. While postsecondary is definitely focused on learning the theory and practice pertaining to the career that you are working towards, it is more so about realizing who you are, what you believe in, and what you are willing to work for in life. It’s about aligning your passion with your future goals for yourself.

For me, obtaining a postsecondary education was about realizing that my passion is education and my ultimate future goal is to leave this world better than when I came into it. With these aligned under my philosophy: ”Knowledge is Power and Power is Change”, I am truly unstoppable as to the impact and change I have already made and will continue to make. Just watch me!

A Promise

Christina Halliday, Director | Student Learning Support

“Why get a postsecondary education?” It’s an often pondered question with many scattered answers, both well-researched and anecdotal. The question sits heavy with North American families, too. No young person can easily escape it. Parents, with some degree of privilege, start saving for postsecondary education as soon as their child arrives. Families without resources think and worry about how their child will access K-12 and further schooling. Without a clear path ahead, they’re committed to the idea that a postsecondary education means something and are willing to journey forward to make it happen, whatever that takes. The promise of education, and postsecondary education, is that strong.

I can’t attempt here to compile and trace for you all of the thoughtfully considered arguments for the value of a postsecondary education. But I think there’s something held in that little word, “promise”. A promise is a commitment; an expectation of future value that you can count on. Promises can be so full of meaning and power that they’re sacred. We turn to promises to order the overwhelming entropy of our everyday lives. We make promises to hope. They’re part of the weave of our social, spiritual, and inner worlds.

Why get a postsecondary education? Because as humans in a sometimes unbearable world, we naturally gravitate towards the promise of education; then we can look forward, hope, and envision not just a different but a better future. A degree will give us something; a purpose, an experience, a credit for the future. Who wouldn’t want that?

Reading a book on building tree-houses in the library.

Photo by: Kitty Zhang

What I Need to Take the Risk

by Jason John, Manager, Career Consultants | Career Centre

In 2015, Peter Thiel, multi-billionaire and former co-founder of PayPal, awarded 4 Canadian students, ages 20 and under, a scholarship to put their formal education on hold to start up their own small business with a bursary grant of $100,000 each over a course of 2 years. Since the start of this program, 83 total fellows have received this grant and have raised $72 million in total investments to back their business and in turn brought $29 million in net revenue to their startups. Thiel is challenging the North American education system, suggesting that its model is flawed and leaving students in debt rather than allowing students to achieve their goals quicker.

I argue that Thiel’s model is not for most people. I believe it was through my own formal learning and continuing to foster and engage with my former classmates that led me to think about what else I could do beyond treading down a traditional business management career path. There is an absolute level of risk that is involved in starting your own business without formal education and strong networking skills, and not everyone is naturally inclined to have these skills; though I believe anyone can learn and develop them, and the postsecondary environment is a prime place to do so. Only after completing my education did I feel ready to take my own risks (which I did, multiple times), and I can attribute my successes to those networks I developed in school; to the skills I learned and tested there.

The Privilege of Essential Skills

by Bailey Parnell, Digital Marketing Specialist | Student Affairs Special Projects

I think it’s easy to say why you should get a postsecondary degree. In fact, I believe if you asked most students, you would actually get multiple accurate answers beyond jobs and money. Of course there is much more to it than those two things. In full disclosure, I own a school for soft skills, so I may be biased, but I believe that postsecondary education is one of the most influential spaces to learn those critical skills needed for personal, professional, and academic success—skills like communication, teamwork, time management, etc. Interestingly, studies show the top two skills sought out by hiring managers are “communication skills” and the “ability to work well with others”. Through group work, class presentations, extracurriculars, managing everything, and other experiences, a student learns all these skills to some extent, whether they know it or not.

That all being said, what’s important to keep in mind when telling people why they need to get a postsecondary education is the privilege inherent in the very proclamation. Most people would say they’d prefer to have an education rather than not, but what about the person providing for their family who doesn’t have the luxury? What about the person who can’t afford it, even with financial aid? If it weren’t for scholarships and awards, I might have been one of those very people. I can tell you, if that ended up being my story, I may have rolled my eyes at people telling me why I need postsecondary education. I knew it. Education offers many opportunities for growth and experience, but we can’t forget that for some, it is still a closed door. We must keep fighting to change that reality.

To survive, we need money; to get money, we need a job. Increasingly, whatever job we’re looking for requires a postsecondary education of some sort. But in these four answers, I see the shadows cast by the possibilities postsecondary can offer students. The development of skills, of course, growing as a human being, too—but the power to convert the future to something more. A promise of change, and the power to make it for oneself and others. Postsecondary is not an option for all, yet, but hopefully some of our current students are learning what they need to know, are seeing that which they haven’t seen before, and in the intangible future before us will take the risks and make the change necessary to open this growth for everyone.

Thank you to each writer for taking the time to reflect, write, and be a part of this rendition of In 250 Words.