A goal for higher ed: “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”
My daughter is enrolled in Georgia’s “Governor’s Honor Program” which started this week. The program is highly competitive — my daughter filled out multiple applications, wrote essays, and went through two rounds of interviews. Over 700 high school students from across Georgia attend for four weeks of residential classes on a university campus for free.
At the parent’s orientation, we heard from two former GHP students, the Dean of Student Life, the Dean of Residence Halls, the GHP Program Manager, and the Dean of Instruction. It’s that last one who really got me.
“You heard from these students, and many other students. GHP changes lives. There is magic in our program.“
The program sounds remarkable. No grades, no tests. The Dean of Instruction said she told the teachers to “give these students learning opportunities beyond what’s in any high school classroom.” Students are only there to learn for learning’s sake.
I was thrilled for my daughter, that she was going to have this experience. I was also thrilled as a teacher.
I want to teach in a program whose leadership says, “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.” Last week, I took my daughter to tour three universities. Our daughter is the youngest of three, so I’ve attended other prospective student tours at other universities. I’ve never heard anybody at any of these universities make that kind of claim.
I don’t mean to critique my leadership at Georgia Tech in particular. When I was the Undergraduate Program Director, I never said anything like that to my teachers or to prospective parents. I am critical of higher education more broadly. Higher education in America sets goals like preparing students for careers, giving them experiences abroad and in research, giving them options so that they can tailor their program to meet their particular desires, and surrounding them with great fellow students — I’ve heard all of those claims many times on many tours. I’ve never heard anyone say, “We change lives.”
Rich DeMillo argued in his book Apple to Abelard that higher education institutions need to differentiate from one another. Offering the same thing in the same way makes it hard to compete with the on-line and for-profit options. At Georgia Tech, the faculty are frequently told, “We get amazingly smart students.” We’re told to think about how to tune our education for these super-smart students. I’ve never been told, “Give these students experiences beyond what they will get in any other program. Create magic. Change their lives.”
What I gained at GHP is a new definition for what higher education should be about. We need to step up our game.