• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

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Education vs. graduation

Two recent occurrences and a slightly less recent news story came together in my mind this morning.

Occurrence #1 - I got an email from a sorority on campus. It's a group for which I recently did a forum presentation as part of the continuing effort to build links between the sustainability office and the student body. The email was an attempt to get me (or, more likely, my office) to purchase ad space in the program for a celebratory dinner the sorority chapter will be putting on later this Spring.

February 21, 2011
 

Two recent occurrences and a slightly less recent news story came together in my mind this morning.

Occurrence #1 - I got an email from a sorority on campus. It's a group for which I recently did a forum presentation as part of the continuing effort to build links between the sustainability office and the student body. The email was an attempt to get me (or, more likely, my office) to purchase ad space in the program for a celebratory dinner the sorority chapter will be putting on later this Spring.

Occurrence #2 - The youngest of my spawn will be graduating from university in May. Thus, he's actively searching for future gainful employment (an effort I encourage with all of my heart and soul!). He asked me to review his resume and a cover letter.

What brings these two events together is that each conveyed a lack of understanding of the world beyond campus. The sorority doesn't seem to know that administrative offices of Greenback U have zero dollars for advertising, and my son (while a very good writer in other forms) has absolutely no idea of how to structure a business letter.

Neither of these observations is particularly surprising. In fact, it would be more remarkable if the sorority sisters were really paying attention to the internal workings (and budgets) of campus administration or if my son were able to write solid business communications when he hasn't yet really entered the business world.

But each event got me thinking about how we -- the sustainability staff at Greenback U -- consider the information and attitudes with which our graduates leave the university to represent our greatest impact -- the lever by which we hope to move society (at least a little). To the extent that our information/influence enters students before they go into the world, its long-term impact will be blunted. It will become part of the "ivory tower" experience which preceded real life. It can have an effect, but not as much as we'd like. And, to the extent that it runs counter to the message and the agenda of the future work-a-day world, its effect is likely to be most diminished in the very individuals who will end up positioned to change society.

A news article I stumbled upon this morning also comes into play. It describes research (conducted at UMich) about the impact of corrected information on the power of mis-informed opinions. The results, of course, don't encourage faith in fact-based decision making.

So, what does this mean? If we're sending our graduates out into a world for which they're at least somewhat unprepared (pretty much a given), if an influential set of opinions they're bound to encounter is misinformed (and, at least in North America, I'd argue that's true), and if opinions -- once deeply held -- aren't swayed by factual inputs, then what's a university to do? How can we hope our alums can change the discourse after they leave us, based on information and attitudes conveyed long before?

Well, it's not a full-fledged idea yet, but it occurs to me that in the situation I'm describing the problem consists in the expectation that education ends. Or, at least, that the formal portion of education -- engagement with an institution of higher learning at a level greater than getting one magazine and two fund-raising phone calls every year -- ends. I'm wondering if the answer to this (and a number of other concerns, including the financial sustainability of non-profit education) might not be to engineer a more substantive continuing institutional presence in the lives of our alumni. Regular briefings (in person or via webinar) which are available only to alums (and thus reinforce that identity), which enhance the value of a Greenback education, which provide a repeated opportunity for "ivory tower" information to meld with business experience, which help maintain an expectation of influence based on informed thinking, and which (by dint of the stronger relationship) might reasonably be expected to throw off more income (in the form of increased alumni contributions) than they cost to conduct.

The picture isn't entirely clear in my mind, but I wonder . . .

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