I was a college professor for about 17 years. From that perspective, I saw what it takes to get a college education.
A student went through a four-year process of experiences that prepared them for the real world. They would take classes to learn things, and then would have projects to help them apply that learning. Other campus activities taught them how to negotiate relationships, schedules and the expectations of others.
For many students, it was their first time living away from home. Theoretically, the college provided a “testing ground” where they could learn to be independent, making both good and bad choices. The consequences of those choices were always real, so they could (hopefully) learn from those mistakes.
Roughly, I could divide students into two groups:
- Students who wanted the learning. These students embraced the entire process, knowing that it was shaping them for the future.
- Students who wanted the degree. These students saw the process as an “unavoidable delay,” a series of hoops to jump through to get their ticket to a high-paying job.
It’s unfair to lump everyone into those broad categories, but it’s a place to start. We could have a lengthy discussion about what led them to their choices.
Over the years, I found that the first group tended to keep learning after they graduated. Since learning was about shaping them for the future, they never stopped. College was just one season of learning, and it continued years later.
The second group was often disappointed after graduation, because they couldn’t land the job they were expecting. Since they weren’t in the pattern of continual learning, they blamed the college, their parents or their circumstances for their plight. Years later, they kept trying to work the system to meet their needs.
The effective life is one that doesn’t see college education (or lack of it) as the sum total of one’s education. It’s only the beginning. College doesn’t provide learning; it teaches us how to learn.
Recent studies in brain research have shown how lifelong learning can keep the mind sharp as a person ages. It’s more than doing crossword puzzles; it’s being engaged in things that have purpose and meaning – things that make a difference in the lives of others.
So how do we keep learning?
It’s probably not practical for most of us to go back and live in a dorm again to get another degree. There’s a better way.
Charles Simmons, one of the early motivational sales trainers, wrote a small booklet titled “How to Get a College Education Every Six Months.” He suggested that everyone has knowledge and experience that we don’t have. If we approach them with a perspective of listening for understanding rather than just trying to get our point across, we’ll learn something new from each conversation.
What a great approach – seeing every human encounter as an opportunity to learn. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them.
It simply means we’re listening. Really listening.
And we’ll keep learning – with or without a college education.
I’m going to try it today. Want to join me?
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