Tuesday, October 2, 2012

equal access to higher education

“But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25)
Heather Alexander, me, Rebekah, Jordan Alexander outside Admissions
Here’s what I’m wondering: Jesus thought it was a bad idea (terrible idea, criminal idea) for someone to bury their “talent/money/gift” in the ground… But how about this: How about if you bury someone else’s talent in the ground? What might Jesus say about that?
CAMPUS TOUR: It must be a tough gig trying to give a prospective student “the campus tour” when said prospective student’s alumni aunt and uncle tag along and insist on adding various tidbits to the script! And some of what we said was even true.
Sampson Hall, where Jordan would study art
The occasion was “Check out Stetson University Day” for our niece, Jordan Alexander. So, after her morning classes and admissions interview, Rebekah and I joined in for the tour followed by some “insider” access to the administration.
I’ve got to tell you, the campus is nothing short of spectacular. Stetson, which now ranks #3 in Regional Universities (South, U.S. News Best Colleges), butts up against historic downtown DeLand, has a 100% walkable campus with a park-like feel, offers small class-sizes, utilizes actual professors rather than teaching assistants, and boasts an innovative values-based curriculum that’s generating national attention (not to mention cutting-edge sports, arts, theater, music, business, language, writing, social sciences, technology, science, media, IT programs etc. etc…)
I think that’s the library back there – at least that’s what I’ve heard….
Our guide – bless her heart – probably learned much more about the school than she wanted to, including our less “politically correct” interpretations of some pivotal events in its history.
STORIES: But it sure was fun to share some stories with Jordan:
  • “This used to be called the ‘Forest of Arden,’” Rebekah said, pointing behind one of the new buildings. “The old oak trees were a great place for smooching.”
  • Or, “This is the Library; I used it for research, but Derek seldom spent any time here.”
  • Or, “I got thrown in the fountain five times during my junior year.”
  • Or, “Here’s where I took a religion class. They said the class might challenge our belief systems; but it turns out that I challenged theirs!”
Park-like campus
When we attended (late 70′s) the school was officially affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Those who were stuck in its restrictive chauvinism really didn’t know what to do with Rebekah, so mostly they told her to sit down and be quiet.
Eventually, and largely in response to issues surrounding academic freedom, Stetson shifted its foundational affinity to a broader, faith and values based vision of education. Consequently, both the quality of education and the quality of the college experience has flourished.
Stetson is now a place where young people of all faiths are encouraged to learn and grow and to serve humanity. The school really would be a wonderful fit for my smart and creative niece. I just pray that, somehow, a boat-load of money can be released to make that possible.
Rebekah, Heather, Jordan, and Linda Davis (in DeLand Hall)
V.P.: One highlight was our visit with vice-president Linda Davis, who now serves as Special Advisor to the President for Philanthropy. That level of access is part of what makes Stetson such a unique community. Linda was generous with her time and attention; she obviously valued talking with Jordan, and it was an experience that’s unlikely to be replicated on any other campus my niece may visit.
Historic DeLand Hall (with guide)
LARGER ISSUES: But, I have to admit that I’m concerned about the future, and especially the increasingly wide gap between those young people who can afford the kind of education schools like Stetson offer, and those who are closed out by financial challenges.
And it doesn’t work to say, “College loans are affordable.” Because they’re not. We do not live in a world where graduating from a four-year college carrying $100,000 or more in debt is a viable option.
  • Prospects like my niece are more than an asset to schools like Stetson, they are life itself. However, top-quality liberal arts colleges will lose what makes them cutting-edge if they (and those people in this country who control vast resources) fail to find more ways to make it possible for academically sound, service-oriented, smart and creative students such as Jordan to attend. I’m talking about a young person who literally oozes the faith-and-values credibility the university is committed to nurturing as its definitive bottom-line.
Picture our niece at Stetson!
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not arguing the $30,000-plus annual cost of attending Stetson University –  there’s no way to avoid those dollar amounts considering what is involved. What I am saying is that those of us who have access to significant resources must do more to subsidize this kind of education for families who bring everything else to the table other than money.
To fail to do so is – quite simply – to compromise the future for everyone - DEREK
Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. (Matthew 25)

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