I have a confession to make.
On Sunday morning, I was working my way through The New York Times, coffee at my elbow. I got to the point where all I had left was the Sunday Review—which featured a Frank Bruni piece about measuring college’s value—and the magazine—specifically, the education issue of the magazine.
And I couldn’t do it.
I could not read one more piece about higher education.
Me, the woman who decided at age 20 that higher education was my calling. Me, the 22-year-old admissions officer who bought and read “How College Affects Students.” Me, the woman who would steal copies of The Presidency and Trusteeship from my president after he was done reading them.
But I couldn’t do it. Not one more think piece, not one more debate about whether or not college is worth it, not one more contrarian argument that college should be more expensive.
Not even my two-week beach vacation helped replenish my capacity for more #HigherEdReads because higher education was there, too, in the back issues of The New Yorker I took with me and the Taylor Swift-covered issue of Vanity Fair my mom left in my beach bag.
Higher education is everywhere, from the kitchen table to mainstream media to the halls of Congress and the White House. On the upside, this kind of attention and interest will, in many cases, help make our institutions and our policies stronger and more responsive to our students. On the downside, everyone’s got an opinion—informed or not—and there’s never been a more voracious appetite for those opinions. And after a while, it all just turns into some level of noise, doesn’t it?
I was worried about coming back from vacation and launching into the fall semester with this mindset. But then I went to breakfast.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit across the breakfast table from a remarkable student who dazzled me with her poise, her passion, and her understanding of some of the most complex challenges facing first-generation students and their families. Ignoring her meal for more than an hour, she spoke about the work she and her peers are doing to ease the path of those students who are following behind them. She talked about the importance of mentorship, the connection she was able to build with younger students by sharing her story, and her plans for the future. And today, she’ll be honored as a Champion of Change at the White House alongside other young women empowering their communities.
At the end of our meal, I pushed back from the table and headed out into a beautifully cool and sunny Washington, DC, morning feeling recharged and reenergized. I realized that all the think pieces and debates about value and cost and the future of higher education have their place but they can’t replace the opportunity to hear about the value and importance of our work directly from the students we educate.