By College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera
As predictable as students returning to their college classrooms every fall is the attack on the value of a college education—in particular a liberal arts education—in print.
What makes the latest round of punches surprising is the person throwing them. It’s hard to believe that one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy and a graduate of Dartmouth, Oxford, and Yale would pen a piece titled “College is a Ludicrous Waste of Money.”
But that is exactly what Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Clinton and current Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley did in a recent issue of Salon.
Professor Reich’s piece came on the heels of “For Some Graduates, College Isn’t Worth the Debt,” written by The Wall Street Journal’s Doug Belkin. In terms of name recognition, Belkin doesn’t pack the wallop Reich does, but his vehicle wields a lot more influence—not to mention readers—than Salon.
Professor Reich gets right to the point, stating that “a four-year liberal arts education is hugely expensive” and “too many young people graduate laden with debts that take years if not decades to pay off.”
As president of Keuka College, I will speak from an independent college perspective only. I disagree with the esteemed Professor Reich. In 2011-12, more than 25 percent of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year independent college or university did not have any debt at all and the average debt load was $19,500. And here is one of the reasons: independent colleges give students nearly six times as much institutional grant aid as does the federal government.
Belkin weighs in on the debt issue, writing “…one in 10 borrowers is 90 days late on payments.” Perhaps, but the average student loan default rate for independent college graduates is only 5.2 percent.
Belkin states that “roughly a quarter of college graduates with jobs are earning barely more than those with only a high-school diploma.” This is deceiving, since our country is still recovering from a severe economic downturn. But here’s some numbers Belkin did not mention: lifetime earnings of college degree holders range from $700,000 to $1 million more than those who have only a high school diploma.
Professor Reich asserts that “too often in America we equate ‘equal opportunity’ with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree; it should equate to “an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job.” You are right on both counts, Professor Reich. A college degree provides the best opportunity to get a good job.
Professor Reich isn’t off base with his contention that “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated.” However, to put the blame on “our aspirations to increasingly focus on four-year college degrees” is way off base.
Why do technical and liberal arts educations have to be mutually exclusive? The fact is many liberal arts colleges are infusing some level of vocationalism into their curricula. At Keuka College, we are combining digital with liberal arts. Our graduates will understand the basic canon of our civilization and how to explore and communicate their ideas using modern tools through interactive visual communication, data manipulation and analytics.
As the late Steve Jobs said, “… it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
I hope that Professor Reich did not write the headline for his opinion piece. It would be ludicrous to believe that one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century, according to TIME magazine, actually believes college is a waste of money.
Editor’s Note: Here is a look at the seven people nominated by students for the Work-Study Supervisor of the Year Award, which will be presented at a luncheon April 18.
According to international student Sini Ngobese ’15 of South Africa, College Chaplain Rev. Eric Detar creates a warm and positive work environment in the Center for Spiritual Life. With his kindness, generosity, compassion and patience, as well as light-hearted spirit, the rewards of working in the CSL office have extended farther than wages, she said.
The work shift begins with a heartfelt smile and greeting and a few moments to catch up and ensure that all is well, Ngobese said. It’s not simply a polite inquiry, she said, “but a genuine interest for my well-being which, as a student who is an ocean and continent away from home, helps me feel welcome, cared for and important.”
Each work shift has enabled her to learn positive skills that will benefit future workplace endeavors, she said. New tasks are explained with patience and stated in a conversational manner, rather than as commands. If ever a mistake is made, Detar never chastises, but rather empowers her how not to make errors in the future.
“He wholeheartedly praises the good, which helps me as the employee feel motivated, important, encouraged, enthusiastic and inspired,” she said, adding that, Detar’s personable demeanor and propensity to share laughter have helped instill a love for the job and a passion for contributions made to the department.
“As a result, I feel more a fundamental part of the office and its prosperity as opposed to a mere work-study employee. Consequently, I have a huge sense of pride for the office, its projects and events,” Ngobese said. However, she added that of all the great experiences gained as Detar’s office assistant, “the best reward of all is the awesome friendship we’ve established.”
A fun, sweet, helpful and friendly spirit are among the many positive characteristics of Eva Moberg-Sarver, director of student activities.
According to Lauren Esposito ’15, who works for Moberg-Sarver as a student activites and Campus Activities Board (CAB) assistant, “Eva brings fun and energy into the office” and has helped make it more exciting for Esposito to come to work each day.
“I have never seen her in a bad mood and she is always nice to everyone,” said Esposito. “She truly cares about the campus, especially the students. She challenges me to do better and work harder. She is my inspiration and I look up to her or advice, wisdom, cheering up and just nice conversations.”
Moberg-Sarver has been a “remarkable” addition to the Keuka community, Esposito said, and has put in hard work across the numerous areas of campus activities and events that she oversees. Through a positive personality, Moberg-Sarver gets others excited about happenings on campus and is herself, excited about what is happening.
“Her shining personality makes her more than worthy for this prestigious award,” Esposito said.
One of the first people sophomore Savannah Fuller ’15 met as a freshman was Valerie Webster, co-curricular transcript coordinator and community service coordinator. Fuller received the Experiential Learner of the Month Award as a high school senior in January 2011 and a partial academic fellowship to attend Keuka.
Knowing that completing at least 50 hours of community service was a fellowship requirement, Fuller, an occupational science major, kept Webster’s name in her head.
“I went into her office and was immediately greeted with enthusiasm and spunk,” said Fuller. “After volunteering at the office, she recommended that I apply for the community service advocate work-study position. Having a supervisor who is passionate about helping others makes being a community service advocate meaningful.”
Webster’s ”unrelenting dedication to her work-study students and enthusiasm for community service are the highly commendable,” said Fuller. “She told me there was always work to be done and that I was always welcome. Knowing this has made working in the office rewarding.”
According to Fuller, Webster “is always on top of the projects in which community service advocates are involved, and knows how to approach any problem we encounter, big or small. Even while on leave due to major surgery, Valerie made it a point to check up on the community service advocates and give us advice.”
Not only does Fuller count on Webster as a supervisor, but also as a friend.
“She is a mother figure to me,” said Fuller. “I count myself among the large number of students who know we can lean on Valerie when we are having a bad day, and are too far away from home to hug our own mothers. Her office is a safe haven when the stressors of college become overwhelming, and her guidance and support have allowed me to build important skills essential to success.”
While Emily Ekstrom ’13 has been TeamWorks! facilitator for just one semester, she said it’s the only work-study job she’s had that has challenged her and made her a better person. She gives a lot of the credit to her work-study supervisor, Molly McGuigan ’11, TeamWorks! manager.
“It is Molly’s first year in charge of the TeamWorks! program, and she has gone above and beyond any supervisor I have ever had on campus,” said Ekstrom.
As an education major, Ekstrom said her work-study job helped prepare her for the challenge of student teaching.
“A large component of this was Molly,” she said. “She helped me build my TeamWorks! facilitating skills so that I could bring them into the classroom for my students. She not only provided me with the materials, but ideas and advice on different lessons I could do with my students.”
Ekstrom said McGuigan provides a challenging work environment, and pushes the facilitators to go outside their comfort levels.
“Molly encourages us to grow as workers and students with a combination of classic team building activities and fresh ideas,” said Ekstrom. Even though TeamWorks! is a student-led program, Molly is there for moral support, which is always welcome when running a program. She knows just what to say to help us through, and I think she is not so much as boss, as she is an older sibling watching over your shoulder. She is there help us when we have a problem as well as celebrate our successes.”
Ekstrom said that whether she wants to chat about an upcoming program, grab a piece of candy, or just talk about a class, one of the best aspects of having McGuigan as a supervisor is her open cubby policy.
“A real benefit of knowing that Molly graduated from Keuka is that she knows what we are going through, and always has some insightful help when we are in a pickle,” said Ekstrom.
According to Samantha Stevenson ’13, who has worked under Jon Accardi, director of campus recreation and aquatics, for the past four years, Accardi has expanded campus intramural programs from just four sports to more than 30 different annual events that go beyond intramural competitions to include overall fitness and health.
“[Jon] does everything he can to try and get more of the student body involved and active in the Weed Physical Arts Center,” Stevenson said.
As a result, many of the new programs or events introduced under Accardi’s tenure were launched by work-study students. Some of these events include yoga, fitness boot camp, Zumba, a dodgeball tournament now in its sixth year, a rewards program that marks 30-, 45- and 60-day uses of the fitness center with small prizes, and an obstacle-course event last year that has morphed into a “Zombie” Run event this year. The latter three were created with the inspiration of former students Ashley Valentine, Joe Debar, and Alicia Wimmer.
Accardi interacts with work-study employees in a way that makes them feel like colleagues, not “underlings,” Stevenson said, describing how that includes encouragement and praise, recognition of hard work, and at times, a push to press on in spite of challenges.
“I gained determination and integrity to achieve any goal I set for myself from Jon’s leadership. With these experiences, I have achieved a higher understanding not only of what it means to work hard, but how to motivate others to do the same,” Stevenson said, calling him one of her greatest mentors. “I know that I’m a better person because of it, and anyone working under Jon in the future will be, too.”
Halie Squires ’13 has worked in the Office of Admissions as a student ambassador for a year-and-a-half. In that time, her work-study supervisor, Tom Jackson, marketing and administrative manager for traditional admissions, has made her believe her role is valuable.
“One of Tom’s main goals in the office is to ensure that the student ambassadors know we are part of the collective whole of the admissions staff,” said Squires, a senior occupational science major. “This is one of his most important roles as our supervisor. He also provides guidance and support to the administrative assistants within the office, ensures prospective students will have a great visit to campus, and collaborates with everyone on campus.”
According to Squires, Jackson also tries to have the student ambassadors connect what they’re learning in class to what they try to achieve in their work-study role.
“During our staff meetings, he encourages us to incorporate our skill sets and background into our tours and interactions with prospective students and their families,” said Squires. “Tom encourages us to work together, ask questions, and be part of a team so that students enjoy their visit to the fullest potential, and make the admissions office run smoothly.”
Squires admits that the admissions office can sometimes be a difficult and stressful place to work, since what needs to be accomplished must be accurate, organized, and completed in a timely manner.
“Tom reassures us that yes, while the work can be challenging at times, it is rewarding,” said Squires. “He knows how to keep us motivated and working toward the goal of admissions—finding students who will enjoy the Keuka College experience. He will tell us, ‘Remember when you’re walking on campus, and see people you took on tour who are now enrolled as Keuka College students? Isn’t that worth the work?’”
Added Squires: “Tom is a wonderful addition to the admissions office, and a phenomenal work-study supervisor. Without him in the office, I am not so sure things would run as smooth as they do.
Rachel Dewey, communications specialist in the Office of Communication and Keukonian co-adviser, was nominated by Danielle Petrilli, editor of the student newspaper.
“Even with her own hectic schedule, Rachel is always willing to talk with the Keukonian staff if they have any concerns with changes made, or if they have questions about how to interview or get in contact with Keuka staff and faculty,” said Petrelli.
Petrilli preaised Dewey for Rachel always having a “welcoming spirit” and being ”eager to help in whatever way she possibly can, whether it be story ideas, or how to approach a story lead.
“No one deserves this [award] more than her; she is the most flexible person, and is always willing to set up a time that works for us, as well as keeping me informed of her schedule so I don’t just drop in and have her be gone. Rachel keeps us on track, but also allows us to do our jobs without hesitation.”
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh part of our Fast Class video series, which showcases faculty and staff members discussing their areas of interest and expertise.
Dr. Benjamin Carson, who will deliver the Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture April 30, talks about how he overcame adversity to change the world of medicine and make a difference in the lives of young people.
Keuka College Today airs the fourth Thursday of every month from 8:30 – 9 a.m. on WFLR (1570 AM and 96.9 FM).
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of our Fast Class video series, which showcases faculty and staff members discussing their areas of interest and expertise.