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We pay for everything except the point of college. Wait, what is the point?

My contribution is a questioning of the very structure called college that elders, society, advertisements, schools, etc. deem so necessary.

Photo of Priya Arya

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I simply want to pose the question: what is the relationship, if there is one, that exists between the a student's understanding of why he/she is in college (which often is poorly discussed, if discussed at all, with the students themselves by educators or by  parents from my experience) and the expenses people pay for varying their degrees to the point that they must spend extra time than expected in college?

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Perhaps the focus shouldn't be "what" (in this case, college), but rather on "why" (why is one pursuing college or not?). In the words of Simon Sinek, "start with why." College is not the goal, college is a means for discovery, change, job creation, understanding society's cycles, etc. School doesn't emphasize "why," despite it being more empowering than society's unexplained expectations.


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Photo of Kaye Han

I like that you're questioning the fundamentals of why we go to college/university - I'm also love Simon Sinek's stuff. The barrier I find to discovering the 'why' is not that schools don't focus on it - it's that they can't. Discovering why you do things is an inherently personal journey. College isn't right for everybody. Some people know that before they go, and therefore choose not to. Some people may only discover that college isn't for them after attending. As in, it may be a necessary process for them to go through.

This might be moving outside the scope of this challenge though. We're operating on the assumption that people want to go to college, in the case that they do, how do we make it easier (more affordable) for them to enter and graduate.

Photo of Christopher

I don't know that Priya is questioning whether college is necessary. I think Priya is asking for some way to make it easier for students to understand why they are at college which could lead to a streamlining process. i.e. students will go into college knowing what they want to study or why they are studying it instead of spending 6 years trying to figure that out.

Photo of Priya Arya

Hi Rob. I wanted to think more about your response, particularly your last sentence. It makes me wonder about the following:

What is the transparency level of the flow of funds from the hands of students and families through the educational institution, in most cases? Only with that information can it be clear what is expendable or modifiable in terms of costs. Is the business model of colleges to changed? Is the range of offered services in need of being reduced? As a recent grad with debt, I am not even sure what exactly it is that I am paying for exactly, and if I utilized or desired the services that may or may not be covered in my bill.

I know, these are just more questions, but maybe they'll spark something more insightful for another thinker.

Thanks again, Rob.

Photo of Denny Wong

Hi Priya, good and important question because you touched the premise of "why education" and "why one system for all". Thank you for sharing.

I agree with Rob that college or university is not for all and that should not be the only option (and it is not, plenty of people whom did not study in college/university or dropped out continue to lead a successful life). It is society that somehow 'sell' that it is 'the' only way to move forward. Somehow along the way, we made a simplistic assumptions that education = progress.

Again, there are some (a lot of) truth in that last statement - not disputing education is important. But it is definitely not the only path and IMHO the answer lies in a step before committing (3 or 5 years) of your life to study for a degree - that is to figure out what you want to do in life. Either one figure this out then or continue on with life and figure this out later.

If one figured this out (if ever) and investing 5 years to achieve this dream is not a big deal. Or/and if along the journey of school one figured out that their initial dreams were not what one wanted - this is fine too, they dropped out and do something else. My questions is do you then need to commit to a 3 to 5 years program to figure out what you want to do in life?

As a society, we do not spend enough time or provide sufficient support to young people during this "self-discovery" phase - instead with our well intended action we 'sell' them the most common 'product' we have that is to join a school/college/University - to follow a pre-defined path to some place, not really knowing for sure if this is what they really want (for some people, they know since they are young what they want to be when they grow up and for some it is a 'fuzzy' thing). We somehow 'outsourced' this self learning phase to school without realising it.

The question perhaps is how can we change this? and/or include this self discovery into the current system? or an alternative system to help us to achieve this? or during the different phase of a person's life journey?

Photo of Priya Arya

Hi Denny, thank you for your response. You have definitely given me much to think about, and a number of questions come to mind.

I definitely believe that experience is a great teacher, but do I think that the alternatives should be so few and far between such that a 3-5 year (likely expensive) program must be the way that such experience is gained? No, not really.

That leads to your questions about how to change the discussion and level of emphasis on self-discovery (perhaps more emphasized in western cultures). If self-discovery can be demanded of students and more deliberately done, then perhaps such questions will clarify the role of college for an individual (whether it be for a particular experience, skillset, undergraduate degree, or simply pre-requisites to obtaining a professional degree by bypassing the bachelor's degree, etc.). Such clarification might really help offset costs.

Perhaps experiential learning programs in public schools (i don't know about private schools or how they work) could be made mandatory (as an extension of guidance counselor office functions or curriculum), shadowing programs for high school students, or courses on self-awareness could be added to the curriculum in high school.

Perhaps colleges might offer such programs for free to high school students during the summer of junior year. Such programs may help attract students while provide crucial questioning moments and experiences that help students frame the importance of college. Then again, maybe colleges should not be involved in the process at all, since they are the business party that stands with the most to gain and may not see interest in clarifying student goals.

I hope to come back to your response with more reflection. Thanks again.

Photo of Kaye Han

Those are some good questions, Priya. It is the same sentiment that some other posters have had - breaking down the school fee so that one can choose what they want and don't want. Looking forward to see ideas develop around this.

Photo of Kaye Han

Denny, I love your statement "We somehow 'outsourced' this self learning phase to school without realising it." That is true in many ways. We have actually outsourced our self discovery to the world and friends around us. How many people actively are doing things week by week that is trying to figure out their life's direction? I'd say less than 1%. How many people are waiting for 'someday' (after college, or after this job, or after next year) to see what happens? As if that magical date will be different from today. The issue is most certainly passivity, and it isn't helped by school and parents doting on kids in my opinion. I'm not sure this issue should be solved by school.

Priya, I like your thoughts about having more options for self-discovery beyond university. You mention a program in high school, what do you visual it to be like? What is taught? How does it work?

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Great comments Rob and I agree with you it is a minority that ask such questions and even less whom take action to address it - for different 'valid' (or so we thought) reasons.

If we leave it to nature it will be as it is, very similar to the distribution shown in the "technology diffusion" curve. There will always be innovators (2.5 %) , early adopter (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%). I find this distribution compelling as it 'often' reflects the type of human profile, behaviours or mindset towards different things (ie. technology, changes, etc) for a given moment in time ( a snap shot).

So the point is why should we 'provoke' such 'self-discovery'; how? and where? if school is not the right place for this (at the same time it is one of the place we/students spend most of their waking time in)....and how can be put a value to this (to stay in topic of this discussion).

Photo of Denny Wong

@Priya @Rob. I like the concept of 'unbundling' university or school (for this matter) because it invites us to think hard and critically - the essence of education and how it is constructed - what matters most.
Looking forward to this thread of conversation.

Photo of Priya Arya

@Denny @ Rob. Thank you for your insight. To answer your questions, self-discovery should be provoked because it can help one choose/find purpose, and with regards to the question/challenge at hand, it can probably clearly define the utility of higher education to an individual. Sometimes we are unconscious or unable to put into words the purpose we have chosen or resigned ourselves to, and questioning it can bring awareness to one's actions in and outside of college.

For me, school is supposed to be a place of questioning, so it seems ideal for self-discovery in theory.

@Rob Perhaps programs or even a class in high school called "Self-discovery class" in which students will be graded on finding a purpose, or choosing a goal, and seeking to work towards it. It would require pursuit of interests, invention, creative thinking, and certainly a lot of questioning. The curriculum may even be aligned with design thinking (I don't know). I think having them be graded on their expression of pursuit of why/purpose over time through self-chosen and self-directed work/projects can work. It is almost like a structured do-whatever-you-want class that emphasizes creativity and learning-by-doing while effectively separating the concepts of creative vs artistic. Such a course would obviously require an open-minded teacher and grading metrics/criteria that could comparable to nearly any other creative project in school. I also don't see why this couldn't be made for first-year college students or even as gap year programs for between high-school and college. There is no reason that this cannot be expanded beyond what is considered to be the traditional student population to individuals of all ages and occupations to promote self-discovery through different employers. (I know my brain is running away with this perhaps, so sorry if this does not make any sense).

@Denny - back to you. Intentional focus on self-discovery and questioning outside of the school opens up a wide range of possibilities for influence (parenting, coaching, employers and companies, advertising, social media, and music to promote such ideas). Kind of short on ideas right now . . . perhaps I'll come back to this.

Photo of Kaye Han

Priya, I think in order to have self-discovery emphasized in school, we need to first understand how does self discovery work. How does it happen? Should or can it even be facilitated by school, if so, what part? From my research and personal experience, self discovery is something that's not contained to the classroom, campus, and curriculum. It is a vastly diverse, dynamic, and fluctuating. There are sequences and areas that do magnify the experience of self discovery but this probably deviates too far from the challenge.

Either way, it's a fascinating area and should most definitely be emphasized in school. In my opinion though, it should be emphasized at all areas of life at all times. Not being self-aware of your own life is to not live - it's just existing. They're not the same thing.

Photo of Denny Wong

@Priya, agree that self-discovery can be prepared by providing a conducive environment, context and framework - with intention to provoke or bring forward self discovery experience, but it cannot guarantee that such journey will take place because it is such a personal journey that it is not easy to predict. However, in different culture it is sometime built in - such as the rite of passage, etc.

Though this often is related to the phase of life one are living (linked to age), situations (life threatening events, near death, crisis), awakening, from constant questioning (self directed) or other experience.

The next question, would be who should be the initiator or owner that initiate this journey AND be the guide to the 'young' (or less young) one.

And in which context....

Photo of Denny Wong

@Rob love your phrase " not being self-aware of your own life is to not live - it's just existing " Boom. Very powerful.

And like you, I do believe as a society we do not have enough 'living' people and we need to make sure or give the opportunity for people to choose living rather than existing.

If we believe education is a key to this regardless if it is 'institutionalised' or self directed - we need more of this. This is why we are converging on this topic - to ignite or join the grass root movement that is gaining momentum. If we know and agree on the why - the next step in this conversation is how and then what.....

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

These are some great questions around the value and role of education. At this point, it would be helpful to interview people to understand why they have chosen to go to college and what they are getting out of it, and to interview people who have chosen not to go to college, and what their experiences are. In the spirit of human-centered-design, we want to frame our insights and ideas as we head into the next phase with stories from the population we are designing for. Here's a link to the designkit materials for some inspiration,

Photo of Priya Arya

I most certainly agree that self-discovery is not a is not contained process that one has to be intentional about, but perhaps the efforts (trial-and-error kind) in experimentation and periodic deliberate self-questioning can be part of that process in school. Especially for students who experience trauma (significant population), this deliberate questioning may be valuable in promoting pursuit of college. I suppose this thinking could be helpful in the preventing of the need for more than the minimum time required in college. Ultimately, not only do we want college to be affordable, but I hope that it would mean that more people can live, not just exist. Thank you, Rob.

Photo of Priya Arya

I think that teachers and guidance counselors could be involved in addition to parents, as these are usually the first and most powerful "life coaches" of most students anyway. (hmm . . . should schools have life coaches? um . . . not sure, young people are pretty imaginative without them, anyway, that's me getting side-tracked.) Essentially, the idea of self-awareness and questioning (open-mindedness) should be a concept that students become aware of early on so that they have the idea presented to them, and they can become more deliberate initiators or owners of the journey. Thanks Denny.

Photo of Priya Arya

I feel like answering the "how" is going to take some group brainstorming sessions. Maybe with students themselves. I know that once upon a time my school district used to have an internship program where students could follow/shadow any kind of profession(al) at work for a period of weeks. That could be one way. Like I said, perhaps more brainstorming needed here.

Photo of Priya Arya

Thanks for the link, Trevor. I suppose I could interview some people I know and see what they think, or maybe do a short survey.

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@Priya, good comments. I believe self-discovery, like learning is a continuos process or cycle as we continue to life our life. However, one of the key to self-discovery is being able to be self-directed and the learning to be self-directed we would need to be self aware because we can use this as a 'compass'.

Once we have this 'compass' (self awareness) we can practice self 'directedness' to go through the self discovery processes - during different phase or journey in life. One of them is during college/university or others. To you point, I agree that each individual would have a different 'pace' during this journey - hence it is not 'easy' (nor wanted) to define a timeline.

However, I believe the key is to help student to learn this enduring life essential skills - so they can practice it through out their life journey. Now perhaps the question is college/university is the best place to impart this skills? Is this part of the bargain, for the price that we are paying?

Photo of Denny Wong

"...they can become more deliberate initiators or owners of the journey" Well said Priya.

It is about being self-directed and giving sense (or meaning) to one's chosen path (whatever that is). There are two part to this - one is self awareness (introspective) and another part is 'extrospective' ie. what and who we want to serve, what outcome will be changed due to our contribution, etc - to anchor this to one's community.

Hence, what is the role of university/college during this journey? Does it help the students to connect to a community or multiple communities? What does this communities needs? etc. Interesting questions,....

Photo of Priya Arya

Since College/university is a place of deliberate imparting of skills, why not include these skills (btw, are your referring to skills of reflection and questioning?)? This, however, is not necessarily included in the price we are paying for, since educational routes do not necessarily emphasize questioning, they emphasize degrees. On the other hand, when it comes to what we are paying for, I find a lot of students saying that they do not really learn as much in the classroom as they do in hands-on experiences anyway. So, if college is primarily a classroom experience, it may not be the best place for questioning and self-discovery anyway. Maybe it is ultimately just the best place for picking up specific task-related/job-specific skills, not much else, and so it is over-hyped.

on a slightly different note . . .
I have also heard (perhaps somewhere in these conversations), that current existing colleges are going to be facing more and more demand for their services, eventually exceeding their capacity, and so eventually, they will have to be more willing to accept credits from alternative sources (such as online), etc. As a result, will the financial structure of the university change and could the variety of packages that a student can buy become greater and more specific (perhaps leading to greater transparency and specificity of what a student can buy; thus, eliminating extra costs?)?

Photo of Denny Wong

I think we tend to agree that self discovery and awareness is needed either in college, university or school ; or in our society. Question is rather where or in what format ; provoked and guided by whom, etc.

On your second point, it is interesting. It have never crossed my mind that maybe education-for-all is just reaching the mass majority and moving into the mass laggard (referring to the technology diffusion curve). If this is the case, we could also use the analogy of 'degree inflation' and compared it to the S curve of technology evolution - very interesting. Because if we apply this two 'filters' we could sort of tell the future of education. It would be interesting to see if some one have done a detailed analysis on the 'penetration' of education (ie. the evolution of the percentage of people going thru an education system; maybe comparable to the percentage of illiterate;...). Do you know of any social studies of such mega trends? Across different part of the world?...

Photo of Priya Arya

I do not know of any such studies off the top of my head, but I am sure they exist. Brief research on google seems to suggest that the future of education is the unbundling of an increasingly cheap and accessible commodity of knowledge, and the lecture dying out and turning into more project/development-based curriculum. That's in brief though. There is more to be read, but that is some of the prediction material that I have read.

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