Academic Advising Competencies


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Is University about Getting a Job? The Endless Debate

Is post-secondary purely about employment or self-development? It’s a false dichotomy.


The OECD recently released a report that suggests the most popular degrees available in higher education are not necessarily the best for landing jobs. The Toronto Star summarized the findings in an article published on September 21, 2017:

“The most popular college and university programs are business, administration and law — but all the jobs are in engineering and information technology, says a new international report on education.”

It harks back to the debate we are having more and more in society: is university about finding employment afterwards, or is it about personal development? Two days later a letter was published by Thomas Klassen of York University in response to the Toronto Star article. Klassen states that “Post-secondary education is about preparing for the rest of life, not just a job.”

Fair enough – these debates are important to have as a society to debate our way into the best possible conclusions. The issue itself unfortunately lends itself to false dichotomies. There are those who argue education is so expensive that there must be a solid and verifiable return on investment for the graduate. Or there are those who suggest university is about personal growth and that jobs will come naturally as graduates enter the workforce and gain experience and training. Both are important factors when it comes to making decisions regarding one’s education but neither can fully account for the purpose of higher education.

For better or for worse, more people are entering college and university either because they find it necessary to compete in the workforce or because it is becoming more widely expected of everyone. I find Trow’s model of “Transitions from Elite, to Mass and Universal Access” to be particularly useful to understand this shift. If, in the past, only elites attended university then their lot in life was already predetermined to be one of affluence as they had many marked advantages over the rest of society. These students could concern themselves more with personal development and “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” (Read The Idea of a University by Cardinal Newman for related material on this notion) rather than worrying about employment after graduation. But after World War II when higher education became for the “masses” and more recently when there is push to make higher education “universally accessible” then the concerns of this new cohort are going to be very different. Higher education will not be filled only with “elites” but with a variety of students who would be naturally concerned about their livelihood after their graduation as any person would be who needs to become self-sufficient.

This shift would partially explain why the debate regarding the return on investment of higher education keeps reappearing and why “personal development” does not appear to be reason enough to stand on its own as the sole reason to pursue a degree. Personal development is great if you already have connections to land a job after school, but may feel particularly irrelevant (or at least not a priority) if you are responsible for supporting your family after graduating for example.

But I want to double-back to the initial findings of the report: that the most popular degrees do not necessarily lead to the most jobs. And I feel that it is in this finding that there is some room for improvement when it comes to strategic planning for higher education in Ontario (and Canada, and beyond). In my experience advising students on program choices I have found that often their perceptions are based on what they see in the media as well as their limited knowledge of what occupations exist in the workforce. In the case of media, I have spoken with many students who would use characters in television or movies to describe to me their desired future professions. This is an understandable tendency in our media-saturated world and I am not criticizing these instances in any way. In the case of limited knowledge of occupations I found that many students are familiar with jobs such as doctor, lawyer, and teacher and they may default to some of these more “visible” (or archetypal) professions and related programs. They may be less inclined to make goals of pursuing newer jobs such data scientist or social media manager as they simply don’t know about them.

What I am arguing then, is that we need to be mindful if some programs are popular because they are often represented in the media or they fall into the category of highly visible occupations that are deeply familiar to most people. Because if a program is popular for those reasons and we as higher education institutions benefit from filling seats with those students then perhaps we are benefiting from this lack of knowledge students have regarding the outcome of these choices. Instead we may want to take a more nuanced approach of working with high schools to educate students on the return on investment of their program choices while also still encouraging personal development as an important goal. Law and commerce are certainly very valuable areas of study, but other areas may benefit from sharing the spotlight with these popular choices.

I am not one to blame a particular sector over an issue as I find that approach ineffectual in making real change. I would not blame high schools nor would I finger-wag at colleges and universities for capitalizing on popular programs. Education is exceptionally political and these changes require gradual shifts and buy-in from stakeholders. What I am advocating for is that we continue to research why students make their choices and how higher education institutions can work with these various groups to create positive outcomes for their graduates without compromising their individual academic missions.

Why I Love Nanowrimo, and Why the Haters are Wrong

Nanowrimo (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth) is a time when writers across the world take 30 days to write at least 50,000 words. You have an online community to support you along this journey with many tips and forums on how to make it to the 50,000 word mark. Why this number? It’s approximately the length of The Great Gatsby.

Many people have criticized this method of encouraging would-be writers. I’ve heard all sorts of condemnations.

1- Not everyone is meant to be a writer- isn’t this just creating a lot of garbage writing into the world? There’s enough novels and novelists as it is!

It’s true that not everyone will be a writer. But for some people, like myself, find writing to be therapeutic. So regardless of whether you become a big-time published author, a small-time niche writer or someone whose manuscripts never see the light of day at least you had the chance to put yourself to the test. The worst thing that could happen is that you will learn something about yourself through the reflective process of writing as well as build up your stamina for writing longer pieces.

2- You can’t really write a quality piece in a month. It’s going to look sloppy.

True, but this would just be a first-draft. I’d be hard-pressed to publish something I wrote that quickly although that’s exactly what the 3-Day Novel Contest attempts to do and they seem to be a successful creative community.

3- No one cares about your novel.

That might be true. But then again, maybe someone will.

But let me share with you the #1 reason why I love Nanowrimo. It comes from observing my own novelist father over the years and how he has supported other potential writers. I have come across many people in my life who are naturally creative and full of great ideas. And more often than not, they always say a similar thing.

I’ve got a great idea for a novel or book.

You’ve got a great idea. Well that’s fantastic. I’ve got a great idea too. In fact, I’ve got hundreds of them! But what are you going to do about it? Where are you going to start?

The difference between someone who has the potential to be published and a person who has zero chance are pretty clear. The person who has the potential actually has  written something of substantial length that they can show to a person. The person who has zero to little chance has nothing but enthusiasm and an idea.

So that’s why I love Nanowrimto. At the very least puts you to the test to see if you can actually make that novel come to fruition. If you have words on a page then you have a foundation you can continue to grow and build. You can criticize Nanowrimo all you want, but it has helped many best-selling novels get off the ground. And maybe one of them will be yours- or even mine!

Check out for more!


Hope you’re feeling inspired to write this Fall!

For the Love of Audiobooks

I love reading audiobooks. Yes, you heard me right. I read audiobooks.


I first started reading audiobooks when I was a liaison officer back in 2011. I would drive across Ontario for hours visiting high schools from Windsor to Sault Ste. Marie. I genuinely enjoy driving for long stretches, but eventually I felt that I could benefit from something more stimulating than looking at roads and trees.

And that’s when audiobooks changed everything for me. I could hook my iPod into the car speakers and listen away.

I started with easy stuff- mainly autobiographies of comedians. Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling and others. The best part was that these comedians would actually narrate their own lives, adding to the whole experience.

Then I worked my way up to some non-fiction starting with Lean In. One thing that shocked me about Lean In was that Sheryl Sandberg does not narrate her own book! I know she’s busy and all, but it really takes you out of it to hear a stranger read her words in the first-person.

Then I worked my way up to pop lit. Here’s where things got a bit complicated. Also, if you have not read The Help– here is a major spoiler alert.

Sometimes while I was driving and had the audiobook hooked up to the car speakers, I would stop listening briefly when I had to switch lanes or turn left or get off the high way. So at one point in The Help when a character bakes stool into a pie, I actually missed that one very important detail! I spent the rest of the time wondering why all the characters kept talking about this scandalous pie unbeknownst to me that it was a scatological sort of confection.

Eventually my job changed and I no longer had to drive for a living and had a regular 9-5 in the office. To keep up my audiobook consumption I began walking to work so that I could have a leisurely way to take in all the content.

I bought a monthly subscription through to keep up my addiction. Currently I love The Great Courses series by The Teaching Company. They have topics on everything from world mythology to comparative religion. I’m also always on the hunt for books on Jewish Thought since learning about the philosophies of Maimonides by Joel L. Kraemer.

So why do I tell people that I “read” audiobooks?

I say this partially because we don’t have an agreed-upon word yet that captures the process of absorbing an audiobook. But I also use the term “read” because I do not feel that audiobooks are a passive form of entertainment. While we do not use the brain in the exact same way to listen as we do when reading, I can assure you that audiobooks are an engaging form of learning. And while some may subscribe to McLuhan’s theories on “hot and cool media” to refute my statement, I tend not to listen. Mainly because I have my headphones on and I’m drifting away into the world of another great novel or lecture.


Writing about Higher Education

We put a lot of pressure on education. We hear these contradictory statements in headlines everyday:

Education makes us complacentwriting higher ed
Education will liberate us
Education makes us employable
Education kills our individuality

The stakes are understandably high. There is no doubt that education is a matter that concerns nearly everyone. I once heard a saying from a nutritionist that “everyone’s an expert on food, since we’ve been eating since day 1.” In wealthy nations that could certainly be said about education since we have all taken part through compulsory schooling and many of us continue to pursue formal education throughout our lives.

Higher Education is in an interesting position. According to Martin Trow, we are moving towards an era of universal high education in certain countries. That means that if a person chooses to do so, he or she may categorically pursue some form of higher education since this includes universities with open admission or certain community college programs.

Compounding on this trend is the fact that vocational education in high school is in decline, and we now expect higher education to prepare students for the workforce.  And who’s job is that? Does it fall on community colleges? Does it fall on universities? Does it fall on the workforce to work together with high education?

When I first started studying higher education as a field, I was hopelessly optimistic. Whenever I would read about innovations in Germany or Finland I would proclaim “We have to try this here!” like so many general interest articles do in the paper these days.

I now understand that our culture, history and politics shape our education in ways that are difficult to oppose in the short-term. There is also the issue of public perception which can be both an ally and challenger to higher education.

I hope to continue to explore the issues pertaining to the function and purpose of colleges and universities as I genuinely believe that higher education has the ability to transform lives and communities. However I recognize that this field is not without controversy, and opinions, in general, will always ruffle someone’s feathers.