Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Outcome of College: What We Do on Vacation

One of the nine so-called “Foundational Dimensions of Excellence” ® developed by the non-profit organization which I lead, is named the “roles and purposes” Dimension. Very briefly, this has to do with how colleges and universities communicate to new students what are the “roles and purposes” of higher education in particular, and this institution in particular. It is our belief that if we could get students to better understand and respect these “roles and purposes” that we could enhance their motivation, and from that everything else that we aspire to for students would follow: growth, change, learning, retention, graduation, etc.

This is a challenging concept to get across to students, i.e. what are the purposes of college. I attack this in my work with students by talking about what we know are the outcomes of college—and we know a great deal about this. Specifically, we know there are all sorts of differences in college educated vs. non-college educated citizens. One of those differences is how much leisure time and we have (we have more of it) and how we spend it. This leads me to the subject of this post: how I am spending a vacation this week and the fact that I do this because I am a college graduate.

I am taking an annual vacation this week with my wife, fellow student transition scholar, Betsy Barefoot, by staying in “the Holy City” of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C. for the annual Spoleto Festival of the Arts. This seventeen day event has been hosted in Charleston for more than 30 years now and is undoubtedly one of South Carolina’s most important contributions to contemporary society. Every year thousands of visitors flock to this tourist mecca, not for beach and sun this period, but for inspiration, enrichment, and entertainment from the arts. The Festival includes theater (fringe and more mainstream); music of many genres: opera, classical, choral, chamber, jazz; lectures; art exhibitions; dance; and more; all set in one of the most beautifully and carefully historically preserved cities in North America. Betsy and I are like truckers on speed: constantly moving from event to event—3-4-5 a day, interspersed with the gastronomical delights for which the city is also famous.

I am sure that I would never choose to spend a vacation this way had I not had a college education and also chosen to live with another college educated person, who also happened to have been a music major in college. It was college that transformed me to become a live longer seeker of intellectual, mental, stimulation, searching for ideas and inspiration, the kind that are so stimulated by the arts. Knowing this as I do, one of the things I insisted when I ran the first-year seminar at the University of South Carolina, University 101, was that we use that course, in part, to introduce our new students to the arts to see how they might find their own lives influenced by this “dimension” of human creativity.

If this blog makes you think of nothing else: check out the
Spoleto Arts Festival. It could be a unique vacation for you to, and one more way to use your own college education.

-John Gardner