In the midst of midterms, college students may be asking “Why college?” National Public Radio’s Michel Martin asked panelists, which included four UW-Madison students, this question, and what purpose they think higher education serves.
Wisconsin Union President Deshawn McKinney, Outreach Director for the UW-Madison Working Class Student Union Sam Park, Powers-Knapp Academic Scholar Kaitlynne Roling and Associated Students of Madison Representative Brooke Evans spoke with Martin at the event sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, “Going There: Why College?” which will be featured on her NPR program, “All Things Considered,” next week.
The student panelists shared personal anecdotes about the driving forces that led them to enroll in college. Evans, a nontraditional student who was homeless for much of her college career, said she owed her desire to continue her education to her older brother, and the Gifted and Talented Education in her early school years.
“[GATE] taught me, without knowing it, taught me that my mind would be a terrible thing to waste,” Evans said. “It’s at least worth trying it out, and college is a place to do that.”
The other panelists also cited mentors and scholarships as motivating factors for getting them to UW-Madison. McKinney and Park said growing up in low-income neighborhoods and striving to help their communities and families played a major part in their decision to pursue post-secondary education.
This led into a conversation among the panelists about the goal of college. Martin asked the audience and students whether higher education is meant to for people to “find themselves” or to get a job.
Park said his experience has been shaped by his requirement to work and not explore opportunities like studying abroad or unpaid internships.
“What I found in college ... is people with similar stories, and people with similar backgrounds, and also mentors and faculty, people that have arisen through the challenges,” Park said. “It's a matter of understanding that there’s power in honing your experience because then you’re able to control what happens with you.”
Following the panel of students and a performance by UW-Madison’s First Wave, Martin and McKinney were joined by radio host and author Charlie Sykes, NPR Music editor and UW-Madison alum Stephen Thompson, cartoonist and UW-Madison associate professor Lynda Barry, Cofounder of Raven Software Brian Raffel and state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The group touched on similar topics, as well as where funding for education should go and what college is for. They debated if some political ideologies are stifled on the UW-Madison campus and mentioned classes such as the The Problem with Whiteness. Roling is enrolled in the recently added course, which gained national media attention.
Roling disagreed with Vos, who said courses like this were “liberal.” She said people should take classes like this in order to do what many individuals in the auditorium agreed college is for, which is not simply getting a job.
“Taking these classes has really helped me find myself in a way,” Roling said. “I am learning more about the history of our country and the world, allowing me to go forth and talk to people about this.”