How do low-income college students make decisions about education in relation to their careers? This is the focus of our current research. A few weeks ago, we finished conducting our inquiries with students, former students, and administrators in the educational sector where we spoke with them and observed them in the context of their educational settings.
Throughout these past weeks we’ve been rigorously practicing synthesis to draw insights from our observations of our participants. You can follow along visually with the slides from our class presentation here. This synthesis process was completed in multiple phases:
Transcription: We used the audio recordings from each participants, and fastidiously typed out our what the participants said word-for-word.
Utterances: We then broke down these transcriptions into digestible chunks and pinned them to the walls. We had over 400 of these utterances!
Patterns and Anomalies: Once the utterances were pinned on the wall, we started to make groupings around patterns and anomalies we saw. This phase of the process helped us see relationships between different participants and data as well as common themes.
Affinity Statements: When groupings started to emerge intuitively, we gave them labels that captured the behavioral intent of the grouping. These statements were meant to try to put into words the emotions of the participants and often started with “He feels…” or “She’s worried…”.
Insights: We then asked “why?” of each of the affinity statements. The answer to these why question combined what we saw through our contextual inquiries with what we know to based on our individual ethics, morals, intellectual prowess, and the accumulation of world view and breadth of experience to create insights. An insight is a provocative statement of truth about human behavior. While these insights are stated as fact, they may be wrong since they are based partly on intuition.
Tonight, we will be discussing some of our insights we have found from our synthesis. They are as follows:
Parents believe they are unsuccessful because they don’t have a college degree and so force their children towards college.
Through the process, a theme began to emerge around participants’ whose parents were unable to go to college, and their expectations for their children. There was an attitude from both the parents and the children that the parents had “failed” somehow by not going to college, and as such, had made the connection that not going to college contributed to their instability in their life. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, but it seemed to us that the lack of a college degree was the single-most mentioned aspect when children reflected on their parents’ current life.
College is a knee-jerk response to the fear of instability.
Because of the emotional connection that students and parents made to a college degree being the “ticket” to a better life, parents of students had been adamant about them going to college, though the students themselves could not precisely articulate why they wanted to go to college. The theme of instability rose to the forefront of why both parents and students wanted to go to college—not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they had to in order to achieve a stable life.
The college experience is so over-idealized that it can never live up to expectations.
College is often made out to be “the best time of your life” by our culture; A time you will experiment, make memories, go to parties, and at the same time find the perfect career that will have you set for the rest of your life. Students enter college with these expectations just to have them shattered by the reality that college comes with many lows as well as those sought after highs.
The cost of education keeps escalating even though the value proposition is unclear.
It is no big secret that the cost of education is rising. Everyone agreed with us that the debt that students graduate with is unreasonable. However, when talking about the value proposition of a four-year college, administrators would talk about students achieving a more stable life—even though they themselves had not used the technical skills they learned in college in their current work.
Colleges don’t consider the job market when developing their curriculum.
Students expect to graduate with a degree and a set of skills that will seamlessly transition into job in that field of study. Unfortunately that is not always the case because the skills taught at college often do not reflect the skills needed in real jobs. The demand or lack of demand can also cause a problem. College seemingly don’t consider this job market when they create curriculum.
Overall, our insights seem to point to the fact that there is a gap between the narrative told by colleges as their value proposition and the graduates in the employment sector. Employers expect a college degree means that the student has a certain set of skills, but that is not necessarily the case. What can we do to change this narrative? What will this mean for future graduates and their employers?No Comments »