The UnCollege Movement: Are You Listening?

It was early March and I was talking to a colleague about a new speaker we were adding to the Big Ideas Conference speaker line up. “His name is Dale Stephens”, I said. “He is founder of”. My colleague replied, “You know what he’s going to talk about, don’t you? You sure you want to bring him in?”. I said, “HECK YA!”.

Higher Education is under serious scrutiny right now. The cost, the point, and the curriculum are all under a microscope. Rightfully so. Much of “the way we do things” is the same as it was 20, 50 and even 100 years ago. Yet, the world is incredibly different than it was even 5 years ago let alone 20, 50 or 100 years ago. Are you listening? Wait, let me re-phrase…are you opening up  your mind and truly listening to the opposition. Because I would challenge that if you really listen to the opposition you might come out the other end with some helpful perspectives. Let’s take a quick look at one of the opposing arguments out there and see what we find out…

Dale Stephens and See a screen shot taken right from their site about their mission and beliefs to the right. Ok, so in the second bullet he says to stop writing papers and start doing things. So much of what student affairs prides itself in is the fact that so much of the learning that occurs is project based learning. A program board president learning and developing skills through projects like planning the spring concert or reacting to students unhappy with the choice of a comedian brought on campus is a perfect example. This is real life project based learning.

What does this mean for us?

This means that we need to be doing a better job of marketing what we are doing and collaborating with the right partners. We market what we do to each other like nobody’s business! Think about the last time you presented on what you do with students. I am going to guess it was to an audience made up of other educators working in student affairs. We are creating transformative learning experiences and have an extensive understanding of advising students through project based learning experiences. Let’s present about this to those in other industries. Let’s build partnerships with the leaders in those industries and let them tell us how we can better prepare the next generation entering the workforce. We are the face of experiential education that no one seems to know about. If you read the arguments, from UnCollege and elsewhere, you can very quickly realize that their perception of college is inaccurate. They talk about staunch professors, deans in ivory towers and expensive textbooks. We are not even mentioned in the picture. Let’s get in the picture and paint a really awesome one at that.

We have a choice. We can ignore the opposition, or we can listen carefully. If we choose the latter, we have an opportunity to be strategic and lead the way. Imagine leading the way, and how different that could be than if we just sit back and let it happen to us.


Courtney O’Connell

President, The Jersey Alliance



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4 responses to “The UnCollege Movement: Are You Listening?

  1. Kelly Hennessy

    The UnCollege movement is also important to help Student Affairs practitioners claim their place and worth on a college campus with the faculty. We can lead the way and share what we do with other industries, but I also believe it is crucial for faculty to take notice of the experience and education that we provide our students that is imperative to their educational experience. Perhaps the Uncollege movement will help the academic and student affairs side of the house work more collaboratively to provide MORE for our students.

  2. Kelly- Couldn’t agree more. I have some ideas for that. Going to save them up for another blog post. But, the biggest thing is that we NEED to include professors, industry leaders, etc in more of our conversations. And I don’t mean on a committee with like 20 people on it and 9 sub-committees, but grassroots conversations with meaning and ending in action items.


  3. Pingback: Starting the New Academic Year with Purpose | thejerseyalliance

  4. Pingback: Starting the New Academic Year with Purpose | The Jersey Alliance

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