It is officially summer across the United States, and for Chicago, this means finally packing away our winter clothing in favor of tank tops, shorts, and converse. It is also the start of endless summer street festivals. And this past weekend, Andersonville’s Midsommarfest kicked off the season with a city favorite, 16 Candles Band. There is nothing that bonds a group of random strangers together faster than hearing those first few chords followed by classic 80s lyrics. For two hours, everyone is united through music and shared childhood memories. Across the crowds you see people, “Livin’ on a Prayer” while hanging out with “Jessie’s Girl” singing along to “Start Me Up.” Even if you were not an 80s music fan (gasp), you cannot help, but enjoy the nostalgia while singing “Here I Go Again.”
Nostalgia is a powerful feeling that can, in an instant, take us back in time connecting the present with our past. It is the same feeling that makes you hang on to that Frankie Says Relax t-shirt a little bit longer. It is also this feeling that marketing companies use to convince us that no, we’re not clean unless we’re “zestfully clean” or that Folger’s really is “the best part of waking up”. Marketing companies have figured out that the best way to sell their products is to create a connection with the consumer. This connection is what makes people camp out before Apple’s new product releases, form long lines around the corner to eat at the new Nutella Café, and pledge undying brand loyalty.
In the middle of all the critical news articles and negative stories facing higher education, what we are alluding to and just not saying is that students today are lacking a connection. They are struggling to fit education into their busy lives. They are questioning the increasing costs. They are challenging the way education is being delivered. However, most of all, students are failing to see the relevance. From an early age, children are directed away from their passions to focus on practical education more likely to result in stable employment. We break students’ connection with education and then are puzzled when drop-out rates increase. We step on students’ dreams and then are surprised with the lack of skilled employees.
If we are going to change the perception of higher education, then we need to make it mean something. We need to reestablish the connection between students’ dreams and education’s value. When we are emotionally invested, we are more likely to act and commit to seeing our goals through to the end. Higher education needs to rekindle its connection to the next generation and these 80s songs might just help get us there.
How Will I Know: Some people just know what they want to be when they grow-up. Others, need to understand the options and weigh the pros and cons. So many times, students pursue academic programs based on the opinions of others instead of understanding their strengths and interests. For a majority of students, just getting accepted into college is a huge step. Institutions can strengthen the admissions process by taking the time to provide students with information they need to choose the degree program that best allows them to achieve their professional goals. Sometimes the hardest part is making the initial decision. To establish a connection, students need the whole picture to avoid unnecessary interruptions caused by changing majors.
Time After Time: Once students have selected a degree program, sometimes they become just another student ID number lost in the crowd. When they encounter a difficult class, they become discouraged and question their decision. Institutions can invest in students by implementing proactive support services to keep them on track. Personalized support services such as call centers, writing labs, coaching, and mentoring opportunities provides the encouragement students need to be successful. To establish a connection, students need consistent support.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): We know the statistics, students who earn postsecondary degrees earn more money over their lifetime than individuals without degrees. This fact makes it even more important for students to make the best choice. Sometimes students struggle in making the connection between their passion and the best educational options that will support their goals. Institutions can communicate value by guiding students toward their most relevant academic programs that provide skills for the future. Continuous improvement processes demonstrate an institution’s investment in the students they serve. To establish a connection, students need their academic goals to align with their dreams.
This does not have to be another “Cruel Summer” for students. “Straight Up”, we can make it easier. Students do not need to feel like they are “Working for the Weekend” when they pursue a degree program. They can see that “One Thing Leads to Another”. We can change, just “Don’t Stop Believing”.
How can we remove the clash of tradition and meet students’ needs to strengthen connections?