Local View: Getting your money's worth at college

Local View: Getting your money's worth at college
BY JOHN JANOVY JR. - Lincoln Journal Star, 12/10/2006
It is a myth that the Collegiate Learning Assessment tests, the National Survey of Student Engagement results, or the Spellings Commission report will either reveal or maximize the educational value one receives for tuition at any college or university (San Jose Mercury News editorial column, LJS, Dec. 2).

Instead, from watching thousands of University of Nebraska students struggle with coursework and employment for the past 40 years, it is obvious that the rules for getting your full money’s worth out of college, no matter what college you go to, are fairly simple and cost nothing to apply:

(1) Get up and go to school every day. This rule is the main one violated by today’s entering students.

(2) Make sure every instructor knows your name, and make sure that instructor knows you and your work well enough so that he/she can write a letter of recommendation for you if necessary two years from now.

(3) Simply decide today that you are not afraid of, or intimidated by, faculty members, no matter how obnoxious or wacko they seem, and regardless of whether their “values” or religious beliefs are consistent with yours.

(4) Pay attention to world events, especially those with a cultural component. Try to understand why these events take place, even though your courses may not deal with anything other than specific subject matter having nothing to do with global politics or economics.

(5) If your campus or the town it is in has museums, visit them about once a week. Talk to your friends about what you see in those buildings.

(6) Read some high-quality magazine fairly regularly. I suggest The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly. Ask your instructors for a reading list of nonfiction books and read some of the items on such lists.

(7) Talk to your parents or guardians, and especially people your parents’ age, about the ideas you are encountering at college. Such practice will pay off in many ways, especially at job or professional school entrance interviews.

(8) Do something original and creative (poetry, music, sketches, etc.) on a fairly regular basis. Original work develops mental skills that set you apart from the general public in a major (positive) way.

(9) Go to free lectures and recitals when you have the opportunity. Once you get there, turn off your cell phone, stay through the whole performance, and be a quiet and attentive audience member.

(10) Find out who are the most challenging faculty members in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and enroll in those teachers’ courses. If given an option, always take people instead of course numbers, always.

(11) Never let some adviser or commercial test designer tell you exactly how to fill up your most wonderful, exploratory, and life-building years. Remember that the age 18-25 is the cheapest time in life to go exploring, make a mistake in your academic plans, correct it, move on, do something different, etc.

(12) The humanities are what give you a rich life well beyond college. Technical courses in your major may help you get a job, but literature, philosophy and the arts will enrich your life immeasurably for the next 60 years after that first job which, if the statistics are true, will be only one of several.

John Janovy Jr. is Varner Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has taught in the freshman classroom for 40 years.