Want to know how to create your own college experience?
College enrollment is down. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fall 2021 undergraduate student enrollment fell 3.1% or 465,300 students. Doug Shapiro of the Clearinghouse attributes the decline to a trend of more young people pursuing jobs rather than college. Students from low-income families, in particular, choose to work to support their extended families and because many companies have raised wages to $15/hour. The value of going to college is regularly questioned, even by those who have attended college, and even though Lumina Foundation research shows college graduates can earn an extra $500,000 over the course of their life than non-graduates.
Author and strategist Elliot Felix thinks students would get more out of college and find it more valuable to their lives and overall careers if they were more involved in “creating” their college experience rather than simply browse it.
Félix recently published a new book — How to make the most of college: 127 ways to connect, make it work for you, and make a difference (Alinea Learning) – which focuses on students creating a college experience that works for them.
From Felix’s perspective, students often see college as something to “navigate or traverse, like an obstacle course.” He wants to change this vision so that students see college as “an experience that they create so that they can take full advantage of what is offered, in particular by linking the academic, social and professional aspects of college, too often thought of as distinct”. .” Once they use this approach, Felix believes students “can find their place, their people, their program, and their path.”
Felix has learned a lot over the past 20 years from consulting over 100 colleges and universities and wants to share those lessons about how college works with students and families so they can make it work for them. Specifically, he learned that “access to information, support, and opportunity is not equitable in higher education.” To counter these inequities, Felix wants to help students in a way that levels out the feel of the game so that students with fewer resources and connections can get the most out of college.
Although there are a number of books and other resources available for prospective students (and their parents), according to Felix, “they tend to be either light and social (i.e., how to s get along with your roommate) or very serious (i.e. how to write an essay.)” In addition to this social/serious divide, they are also often divided between college research, college experience, or career path. Felix’s book bridges these gaps by connecting the academic, social, and professional aspects of college. It also uses an accessible tone and format with concise advice that students and families can read from a end to end or hover and jump.
Felix shared that there are many “beat the system” books available to students – those in the vein of Tim Ferriss’ 4 hour workweek, which is all about finishing college with as little effort as possible. . According to Félix, his is not one of those books. He uses a very different approach as he is “a firm believer that you get what you put in and there are no real shortcuts”. He added, “I want the hard work of students and their struggles to overcome challenges to mean something and get them somewhere. These are tips and information to help them do so, not to fool the system and themselves.
Felix thinks that if you view college as something to navigate, you play a more passive role – “as if your education was something made for you or given to you.” Designing your college experience means you own it, take responsibility for it, and make it your own. As Felix explains, “Designing means putting people at the center, trying things out and learning along the way. This makes it more personal, meaningful and effective. It’s a more useful mindset. He thinks education isn’t too far removed from health care in that both are “big systems that you can easily get lost in if you don’t have the right information or the right advocate.”
Unlike many mainstream books on the same topic, Felix believes it’s essential for colleges and universities to understand and speak to the diversity of students on their campuses. How to get the most out of college is structured so that one section covers the different facets of university life that apply to all students: thriving in the classroom, feeling supported, building relationships, mastering technology, enjoying the campus and exploring career paths. Then another section covers specific student identities based on his interviews with students and experts in these fields: first-generation students, students of color, students with disabilities, students with children, international students, transfer students, students veterans and student athletes. Felix has organized the book this way so that it provides specific advice, but also so that students can learn a bit more about students who may be different from them in some way and also see how counseling for these students might even help their own lives.
As for what might be different advice for students of color, one of the key themes of the book is to feel a sense of belonging. According to Felix, “Sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on bonding (connecting with people different from you) versus bonding (connecting with people similar to you) has influenced me for a long time and we know that. using longitudinal data from the National Student Survey. Commitment (NSSE) that spending time with people different from you is the key to success in college. It includes tips in the book for getting involved, understanding that belonging takes time and is difficult for everyone, assessing your cross-cultural competence, communicating across difference, and spending time with those who might be of race, ethnicity, religion or background different from yours. Felix also interviewed students and experts who study belonging to provide comprehensive guidance for students. As he explains, “Researchers Terrell Strayhorn (Virginia Union University) and Andrés Castro Samayoa (Boston College) helped me understand that finding a sense of belonging and balancing ties and ties is more complex and riskier for students of color”. Felix includes tips in the book for taking advantage of on-campus cultural/multicultural centers, finding people, places, and programs where you see yourself, managing code switching, and getting help coping with workplace stress. systemic racism. In Samayoa’s words, “Finding communities where you don’t have to realize or justify yourself is essential in school and in general. These ground and nurture you and prepare you for situations where you may not feel as welcome, lowering the threshold for how much mental energy you need to expend to protect yourself.
Unlike many authors of books on how to get the most out of the college experience, Felix has a background in design. He believes this context helps him center students in the book. Three design principles shape his work: understanding people, trying things, making connections, and thinking holistically. According to Felix, “the most important thing designers can do is understand who they are designing for, whether it is a product, a service, a space or a system”. Her book begins by helping students understand themselves so they know who they design the college experience for.