“The question isn’t what we are going to do.
The question is what aren’t we going to do.”
~ Ferris Bueller
Sometimes we all need a sick day, even if we are not actually sick. We need perspective. Today, higher education is facing a challenge. Set aside the news reports about student debt, poor completion rates, and irrelevant degree programs. Higher education’s most pressing issue is understanding students. We tend to think that the student population is the same as always, recent high school graduates looking for a four-year crash course on how the world works. We could not be more wrong.
Most people tend to think about higher education very traditionally. “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” Remember the iconic scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the one where the economics professor flatly takes attendance as he stands before a classroom of unimpressed, bored students? Education has drastically shifted over the past several decades. The non-traditional student has now become the traditional student population. Students are older, working adults who have family responsibilities. With everyone struggling to respond to calls for increasing graduation rates, improving student persistence, and communicating value, sometimes, we might just need to take a day off and gain a little perspective.
Ferris Bueller: We all enjoy seeing those students who are brimming with excitement and looking forward to their higher education experience. Whether they choose to attend a brick-and-mortar institution, online institution, or a hybrid version that provides the best of both worlds, engaged students are easier to motivate. These students’ enthusiasm is contagious. They embrace all that their higher education experience has to offer. They fully understand that “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Cameron Frye: We have all looked into the eyes of those students who have unforeseen potential but are held back as a result of personal circumstances, an unsupportive environment, or, simply, fear. Our desire is to help these students understand that they are not alone and while challenges lie ahead, their higher education goals are achievable. These students need institutions who provide opportunities for remediation to give them the confidence to get started. These students need a comprehensive support system that encourages them through to completion. These students need to know that people believe in them. Every student needs to know that someone is in their corner. “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero.”
Sloane Peterson: Sometimes all students need is guidance. They may not have Ferris-level excitement or Cameron-level trepidation, but they need individuals who come along beside and show them what is possible when they cannot see past their current reality. Students’ goals and educational dreams shift. Their personal and professional demands can adjust their pathway. Students need institutions that are flexible and can effectively guide them to achieve success. “What are you interested in? Nothing.”
Ultimately, the story of Ferris Bueller is a cult-classic, cleverly focused on teenage angst and perceived hardship. However, beneath the comical brevity is a story that higher education can use to better understand the students who are struggling to achieve their educational goals. We need to step back from the day-to-day operations and see the world from a different perspective. Students enter higher education from all walks of life. Some enter with anticipation, others enter from obligation, and still others enter with uncertainty. However, they all seek an opportunity to make their lives or the lives of their loved ones better. Since no two students have the same needs or goals, it is important that institutions take the time to understand who they are serving. Sometimes it is more vital to ask ourselves, “what aren’t we going to do” because then we open up a door wide enough to entertain innovative solutions that go beyond our assumptions.