They arrived on campus from Chicago and Los Angeles, St. Louis and Raleigh, Cincinnati and Minneapolis, New York and Boston. The schools they represented ran the gamut from elite private institutions to charter schools in struggling urban areas.
Thirty guidance counselors and consultants from across the country spent March 18 and 19 at Clark, meeting with admissions staff, selected faculty and President David Angel to learn about the University and engage in dialogue about how the needs of young adults will be met by higher education.
The two days of programming were organized by the admissions team and led by Don Honeman, dean of admissions and financial aid. It was the second guidance-counselor event that Clark hosted in two weeks; the first was held March 11 and 12.
On Saturday, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, professor of psychology, spoke to the counselors about his research into Emerging Adulthood, which describes those from ages 18-25, though the life stage may last through the twenties. Arnett explained that young people today wait longer to marry, have children and settle into careers than did their counterparts of 50 years ago.
Social mores are contributing to that behavior, Arnett noted. Birth control advances allow for better planned, and smaller, families; women have gained control of their lives, and now outnumber men at the nation’s colleges, and cohabitation is no longer considered scandalous. The emerging adult also is typically more tolerant of ethnicity, belief systems and sexual preference, he said.
“The reality is, ten, twenty, thirty years later, you cannot have made a better investment than a four-year college degree.”
~Prof. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
Young adults take more time to chart their life paths, he said. They search for soul-mates rather than settle for convenient marriage partners, and seek work that is fulfilling, with less regard to monetary reward. If the right position is not on the horizon, they will work menial jobs until they find the right fit, even if that means having to move back home for a time until they are financially sound. They will use their early twenties to travel, pursue work in an unfamiliar part of the country, do public service or experiment with artistic ventures. “I think there’s real wisdom in doing this before committing to a long-term partner or job,” Arnett said.
To find resources for counselors and to view videos from the symposium, visit here.
Despite their ambivalence about entering adulthood, Arnett said young people are “amazingly optimistic” and believe they will eventually “get to where they want to be in life.”
One of the counselors in attendance noted that students can be overly optimistic, to the point where they have unrealistic expectations of the future. Arnett said young adults learn to lower their expectations, but stressed that their positive outlook and belief in themselves ultimately gives them the resilience to weather rough patches. However, he acknowledged, unreasonable optimism can be a “source of delusion, too.”
Several counselors said many parents are questioning the cost of higher education, especially when their children are struggling to find jobs. Some suggested that parents are unable to retire because they’re still helping to support adult children, and by delaying retirement they’re also taking up places in the workforce that could be going to younger workers.
Arnett stressed that while most emerging adults struggle financially at some point, those with a college education enjoy a significant advantage over those with only a high school diploma or less. He cited a statistic showing that a college graduate will earn $1 million more over the course of his or her working lifetime than someone who only has a high school education.
“The reality is, ten, twenty, thirty years later, you cannot have made a better investment than a four-year college degree,” he said.
On Monday, President David Angel addressed the counselors in a forum at the John and Kay Bassett Admissions Center. Angel noted that while the national conversation about higher education often focuses on issues of access and affordability, Clark is also addressing the nature of an education that prepares students for life, career and citizenship. He said Clark is reaffirming the value of a liberal arts education, but also sees the need to strengthen students’ capacities to carry their education into real-world situations where they will need to exhibit qualities like resilience, creative problem solving and the ability to make good decisions.
In response to questions from counselors, Angel said higher education needs to address “with intentionality” student outcomes. Part of this, he said, means developing effective protocols to track and measure the skills that Clark is building in students.
The counselors also had sessions with Colin Polsky, associate dean for undergraduate research and active pedagogy, and Mary-Ellen Boyle, associate dean of the college.
David Angel: Clark is reaffirming the value of a liberal arts education, but also sees the need to strengthen students’ capacities to carry their education into real-world situations
Boyle presented the counselors with background on Clark’s innovative model of higher education, LEEP™ (Liberal Education and Effective Practice).
She discussed the need to prepare students for the “upheaval” in higher education. “We want high school students to come to college expecting collaborative projects. … How do we teach students to extract value on their own? That takes advising.”
Boyle spoke about Clark’s unique position, owed to its longstanding identity as a small, urban research university connected to the community “right outside the door.” She pointed to Clark’s graduate population as an asset in completing the developmental arc of the LEEP model.
Why make these changes at Clark now, she was asked. “We wanted the transformative experience to be even more so and to be available to more Clark students. … Technology has an impact as well. If you can get it online, then why have a teacher? We need to change and be more than teachers.”
Most of the counselors attending the two-day symposium agreed that caseload issues are a factor in their effectiveness, especially in the public schools, while others had specific concerns. One independent college counselor based in Lawrence, Mass., said she is shocked that students often are unaware how their parents earn a living. “They know very little about their parents, their expectations are unreal, and this is very disconcerting to me.”
In written comments, Janice Webster, a counselor at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, N.C., noted that it is critical “to provide communities of learning where there are opportunities for collaboration, portfolio and reflection. Clark has its finger on the pulse of reform in viewing students from not just an academic perspective, but one which is inclusive, holistic and life-changing.”
Added Edward Mainzer, a college counselor at the Arts and Technology High School in New York City: “A symposium such as this underscores and celebrates the importance of linking research-based theory with daily practice.”
Jarrad Nunes, associate director for recruitment at Clark, described the two-day event as a success.
“The attendees I spoke with left feeling energized by the information they received, the introduction to LEEP, and the many dynamic conversations that followed,” Nunes said. “These counselors represent a broad swath of the secondary education landscape — from private-school counselors to independent advisers and everything in between. I think this event has positioned Clark well as an institution that is eager to share the resources of its faculty and connect in a meaningful way to the partners who serve as a conduit to our future students.”