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Learning For A Lifetime Of Choices

December 09, 2011

Recently, I had lunch with a childhood friend, Marlene. We have been friends since we were both thirteen years old, many decades ago. Our lifelong friendship began on the south side of Chicago where we discovered personal commonalities, as we explored public libraries and devised many less intellectual adventures together. On a chilly Wednesday in November, we met in Union Station in Washington, D.C., and it was indeed a joyous reunion as we hugged and launched into trading endless recollections and stories of all the life that has happened to us since. When we looked into each other's faces, we bore witness to a half-century of American societal forces that had shaped the lives and choices of two women who grew up with limited resources, but dreamed of nearly endless possibilities.

Between the two of us there were four children–all with college degrees. It was our prayer, and that of our spouses, that we had prepared these talented young adults to lead responsible, worthwhile, and altruistic lives. My friend earned an MBA from a big ten university, and I earned a Ph.D. from an equally prestigious university. Besides the fact that we both have done well by American standards, we also both gained so much more from our college experiences than only the academic content and subsequent jobs offered. It was our advanced educations that provided exposure to options, consideration of diverse perspectives, and development of skill sets beyond our imaginations.

As states struggle with competing priorities for revenue, and the economic downturn lingers, there is even more debate about the value of a college education in relationship to the costs of attendance. Now I know that as a lifelong learner and educator, much of what I think about the value of a college education can be considered biased–since I liked learning so much, it did not occur to me to leave the structured community of learning – a college/university environment. Moreover, it is clear that today’s prospective students can still choose from a range of institutions which correlate as closely as possible with their families and financial support systems, and in doing so reap similar lifelong rewards that Marlene and I enjoyed.

However, as my friend and I shared stories in Union Station, I realized that an expanded worldview is in itself a legacy, possibly just as precious as an inheritance of a land estate. It also occurred to me how fortunate we both have been to have spent so much time developing broader perspectives and expanded worldviews. Our experiences with higher education influenced the activities we engaged in with our children and, in turn, improved the range of choices in the lives of our children and probably their grandchildren.

Without a doubt the knowledge and confidence we have both gained can be acquired from other experiences other than a college experience, but the efficiency and sequencing of these learning experiences that occur in a college environments might take years to acquire without the talented and caring professors who serve as learning guides and mentors.


As I returned to Cheyney University on the train and savored the reconnection with a life-long friend, I enjoyed thinking about the access to a quality education that we at CU offer to young adult learners who have the opportunity to create robust lifetime options and legacies of learning for their children, and their children, and their children, and so forth.

This is how we hope to build a powerful legacy of learning for future Americans.

Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph.D.
President
Cheyney University
 

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