Monthly Archives: February 2016

CollegeQandA asks: Who is your graduation commencement speaker?

Who is your graduation commencement speaker?

The big news at Miami for this 2015 graduation commencement (I’m not a big fan of the name commencement) is that Ken Robinson is this years keynote speaker.  If you haven’t heard Robinson’s talks, take a quick listen/watch for one of my favorites: RSA Animation: Changing Education Paradigms.  So, I’m excited to have a prolific thinking speaker.

Ken RObinson

The season of big name speakers

Graduation season (as I’ll call it) seems to have followed other aspects of higher education where bigger and more is now better.  In present day, the next few months is all about who will be coming to your school’s graduation ceremony.  Is it a big name actor, thinker, or celebrity?

I’ll be missing it

Even though I’m excited that Robinson is doing ours, I probably won’t go to the talk.  I find these types of speeches mostly a waste of time; as in you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.  Also, if a talk is good, expect to see it on Youtube post event.  So, I’ll save my time and spend it working on other things knowing that if there is good information it will be re-playable – a the convenience of asynchronous audio visuals.

So, who else might you want to hear?

Well, of all the speeches I’ve listened to, the only one that I would recommend is David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005.  Of course, the prolific writer creates what I consider the best commencement speech.  Also, NPR has a nice tool that lets you find all sorts of details from commencement speeches if you are interested.

Otherwise, don’t get too hyped about who’s coming to your school’s graduation.  If you’re attending graduation enjoy the speeches, but more importantly, remember your friends mentors, and family that helped you achieve this moment and are celebrating the event.


CollegeQandA asks: What is tuition?

What is tuition?

This is a simple question with a simple answer – tuition is the fees you pay for instruction.  The hard question is how much should you be willing to pay for tuition and where are these institutions?

Roll of american dollars

In the so called olden days

Higher education has gone through a number of transformations.  One of the most significant ones that I have noticed is with respect to picking a school, and the variety of options a student looks at and the price paid for tuition.

When I was looking to head off to undergraduate the process was very simple.  You applied to 3 universities in my province for specific majors, and depending on what you were accepted in, you went to one of those three programs.  There was very little visiting campuses to see what they offered and being marketed to.  In present day, the market for higher education is filled with public and private institutions (and for profit) all promising various futures.  This means that students are considered as much students as revenue lines.

What does this mean for you?

As a potential student, you face the paradox of choice.  What should you pursue and spend you money (or future debt on)?  How many campus visits and what types of schools?  Where should you consider going?


Just so you are aware, I work for a public university in the USA.  I have only attended and worked at public institutions in Canada, USA, and the UK.  These are the environments I have been at,  as I make my suggestions to you.

In most cases = stay local and public

That’s my main tip (also don’t go to a for profit if you can avoid it!).  For your first steps into higher education you don’t need to travel too far or pay too much.  Your local community colleges, colleges, and universities will have more than adequate programs that can help you learn and obtain a basic degree and start you on your career trajectory.

There is almost no good reason to not follow the above rule.  Here are a few examples that I might consider as valid reasons not to follow the rule:

  • You have a full scholarship
  • You have guarantees that the with scholarships and fee discounts that the institution cost is fixed and is less than or equal to what you would pay locally while being a more highly rated school
  • You want to do a specific program that is only offered at X and you are certain you need this program for your planned future
  • Your family or you have more than enough money and going to college X has no impact on your budget

I’m sure there are others, but honestly, take a look around you first.

Credits: photo titled: Pile Of Cash; by: 401(K) 2012


CollegeQandA asks: When to buy books?

When to buy books?

In particular, when should you purchase a textbook for a course?  We’ve discussed textbooks before (and why to buy them) and what they’re useful for.  This discussion is a challenging one because textbooks are very expensive, but aren’t always necessary for every course just because they are recommended.

Books on a shelf

Start with the syllabus

The syllabus is one of the main resources which will tell you how important the textbook is.  Can you use the textbook in exams?  Do you have to have it to access the assignment or practice problems?  Is there some online resource that you get access to and is needed for the course by buying the textbook?  These are the first questions you need to ask.

How is the textbook used in the course?

That’s the key question, and if the syllabus doesn’t tell you and the courses online portal has no information, then you need to email the professor and ask what the textbook is used for in the course.  Another information source for this question is talking to previous students who took the course with the same instructor(though beware that they might mislead you based on wanting to sell you their used textbook).

Lots of options

Now that you know how the book is used, you can determine in which format to obtain the book.  There are many possibilities in the modern day to obtain a textbook including:

  • The library copy (least expensive)
  • Book rental companies
  • Used older editions of the book
  • Used copies
  • Online copies
  • New (most expensive)

Depending on how the book is used in the class will help you decide which format to acquire the textbook.

One other consideration

The last thing about a textbook, is that there are a few textbooks that not only are used for courses, but are also used by practicing professionals.  If the course is in a field where you might work in someday, then you should check to see if this particular textbook is the one that is used throughout a career.  If it is, then it’s a good buy.

Credits: Photo title: Books (74/365) by: John Liu


CollegeQandA asks: When should I provide an excuse?

When should I provide an excuse?

Sign showing an excuse with a washerSo you missed class.  Or you missed handing in an assignment.  Or you didn’t follow the instructions for submission.  What should you, the student, do at this point?  My answer is nothing.  When should I provide an excuse? Never.

You made the error, and as a university or college student, you need to accept the consequences.  Next, you need to make sure the same error is not repeated.  This is part of the learning process.

Worse case is an excuse

Sending your professor an email with an excuse is probably the worse thing you can do.  The main reason is that not only have you made the initial error, but now you have impacted someone else’ productivity with more of your problems.  Excuses are meant to ask forgiveness from someone for something you promised to do, but didn’t follow through on.  In a course, however, the only person you promise things to is yourself.  The professor is only providing the framework in which you will be assessed, but they hold no responsibility for you  following through on your actions, and therefore, an excuse is meaningless in this relationship.  All it does is force your professor to act upon another request, and most likely, make your name be associated with a bad impression of you (which is never an impression you want to leave).

Think about the workplace

Since many of you are approaching college as a path to a career, look at excuses from the perspective of a job.  Your guiding question is, should I ask for forgiveness for this poorly performed action?  In most cases, the answer to this question is don’t give excuses, and instead, start performing to expectations if you want to keep the job.  The same is true in school.  Start treating the classroom and education as a performance based environment, and your career will be better because of it.

Is there a valid excuse

There are a few, and the main one is sickness.  However, for any deadline where you had sufficient time to achieve your deliverable, sickness is a poor excuse when the deliverable could have been done earlier and not at the deadline.

Credits: Photo title: Excuse Me, by: Mike Willis