​What Studying Education Taught Me in 2017—And Where Tech Can Take Us...

Opinion | Student Voice

​What Studying Education Taught Me in 2017—And Where Tech Can Take Us This Year

By Noah Adelstein     Jan 5, 2018

​What Studying Education Taught Me in 2017—And Where Tech Can Take Us This Year

I’ve developed somewhat of a complex in the last year being a college student with an interest in the education system. As a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, the more I dive into conversations and debates around pedagogy, the more I find myself thinking about how I am experiencing or witnessing the problems that I want to help solve.

In 2017, this was especially true while taking a computer science course on data structures and algorithms. I had a very knowledgeable teacher, but lecture slides were available online, and they covered almost all of the material for the course. Like some of my peers, I began to feel that physically going to class did not help facilitate my learning. Why spend an hour and a half in class when I could glance at the slides for 30 minutes whenever I wanted? Factor in the chances that I am going to be ready to learn at precisely 4-5:30 p.m. each Tuesday and it's an easy decision.

Meanwhile, in other classes and conversations, I learned about critiques on the educational system, and I became aware that my attitude towards the computer science class was an issue many instructors and students grapple with. This issue is more prevalent today than ever because—thanks to the internet—I have the ability to learn close to anything that I want, by myself, without the high tuition prices and homework. Online education and improved access to resources are changing the learning landscape. It seems an hour can be better spent reading slides and doing a practice problem than sitting through a lecture.

That said, showing up to certain classes in-person has been invaluable for at least one reason: it exposed me to new information I was not originally looking for and did not know I would be interested in. For instance, I took a class called “Higher Education Administration” where I was blown away to learn about many inefficiencies in the education system. Among the challenges that this class exposed me to, one that stood out was how many high school students lack access to important resources before they apply for or enter college. This made me realize my own privilege in contemplating (and complaining) about the value of my in-person classes while there is a more fundamental issue at play: Hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. do not have the opportunity to take college courses.

This same course exposed me to many reasons why access to higher ed is such a challenge, including that not every high school student has the same amount of information about colleges. In many cases, this is due to a lack of support for high school students throughout the college application process. According to the New York Times, there is roughly one college counselor per 500 high school students across the United States (a heavy load when you’re tasked with helping students find a path to college).

In addition, most colleges do not have the budget to travel around the U.S. giving info sessions and recruiting. That means it is up to students in those regions to research and look up colleges on their own. Without any guidance, and sometimes shoddy internet access, this is no easy feat. This lack of resources tends to occur more frequently among students coming from low-income backgrounds as well. The trend led to a prominent study by Caroline Hoxby on the large number of high-achieving students who do not apply to selective institutions despite their likely acceptance.

This is why inefficiencies with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be will a major challenge (and opportunity) for higher education in the years to come. According to an analysis by NerdWallet, nearly 1.2 million high school graduates (36 percent) did not fill out the FAFSA for the 2016-2017 academic year. Out of those, 650,000 were Pell-eligible (49 percent of total Pell-eligible students), meaning that they would be able to qualify for government scholarship to attend college. This resulted in over $2 billion dollars left on the table for high school grads, or $3,500 per Pell-eligible student.

Again, lack of information was a huge reason for this shortcoming. Many students and families do not know when the FAFSA is due, how to fill it out, and what filling it out can accomplish. In a country with high student debt, leaving this much money out of the hands of people who need it most is a serious threat to expanding access to education.

Issues around information access have many trickle-down effects as well, and they may fuel systemic challenges such as students taking out predatory loans, dropping out of college, or entering programs that are not the best fit for them either academically or financially. Ultimately this means that students are missing opportunities to receive educational experiences that could improve their lives.

Looking ahead

2017 has shown me many of the challenges in higher education that need solutions. But the year was also eye-opening because I have learned how this tide might start to turn (and is already beginning to).

When looking at improving information access and awareness about college, algorithms and data can take into account individual needs to help high schoolers find the best fit. There are a few companies working to solve these issues at this moment. RaiseMe is helping high school students find scholarships. College Advising Corps is sending recent grads into rural parts of the country to serve as college counselors. Edmit is helping students weigh the pros and cons of different schooling options. AdmitHub has created a Chatbot to help students navigate logistics of the college process, including the FAFSA.

These companies are creating a fundamental change in the way that people throughout the U.S. are able to understand college and the admission process. In situations like filling out the FAFSA or helping students find a school that is the best fit, technology can empower more prospective students.

Key players in this space, from college counselors to entrepreneurs, need to be thoughtful about the ways in which students’ backgrounds may influence their access to information or interpretation of what is made available to them. That said, I am optimistic about the ways in which technology can help better matching and support for high school students.

Outside of the admission and selection process, I can (and will) continue to complain about my classroom experience. I will do so, though, while brainstorming (and suggesting) ways in which it could be better. While reforming the ways that colleges teach is an extremely daunting task, I am hopeful about the future of classroom experiences. I am seeing these changes slowly occurring around me, and I will continue to push for them.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up