Equal Access

16 Apr

A clear day in New York

After having been in New York for two weeks now, it’s been interesting to contrast what I’ve been discussing with entrepreneurs and educators against what my friends and peers have been telling me in regards to the reflections from their own paths. Yes, I’ve been meeting with respected organizations and journalists, participating in entrepreneurial learning sessions at General Assembly, and even attending a great class at NYU on social entrepreneurship. But throughout all this, I’ve been couchsurfing in Brooklyn with art students, visiting friends who attend an elite small liberal arts school in upstate New York, and sitting down at cafes in DC and New York with other Eduventurists who are entirely out of the school system. This contrast between the two groups provides me with both a macro and micro view of the same issues. Anya Kamenetz, an advisor of mine who I interviewed last year and met with again last week, has written numerous articles and books about Gen Y and our future. These are my peers, classmates, as well as good friends that I collapse into laughter with and exchange deep thoughts and questions with. We spend hours talking about our futures, what we are proud of, and what is preventing us from accomplishing what we dream of. This brings me to what I want to talk about in this post: the bumps along the road or mountains we face as we navigate this unfolding landscape.  

Deciding to take the road less traveled can be difficult for various reasons. The degree of difficulty and challenges presented vary from person to person depending upon their life situation. I find myself constantly asking the question, “If we are to create a world and culture where different ways of learning, working, and living are more widely accepted and accessible, what concretely do we need to change?” I’ve often joked that I’m writing the very guidebook that I myself need and would want to use at this point in my life. I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the common challenges that have been described to me while interviewing various other students, those who have found solutions and those who are still trying to overcome challenges. One big challenge, which is the focus of this particular post, is finances and access to resources.

Whether you are talking about a gap year or a complete DIY approach to higher education, the “eduventurist path” has traditionally been available to those who can afford structured programs abroad or who can pay for living expenses locally while doing something else interesting that builds skills and knowledge. One of the biggest injustices in my mind is that people of more disadvantaged backgrounds are not able economically to take time off the beaten path in life to discover more about who they are, what they are good at, and where they want to go. Before investing tens of thousands of dollars into higher education, if you choose to go that route, it would probably be wise to have considered your options and be sure that it is the right path for you. Our government provides funding for “education,” but what if we began to see more programs that would give a stipend to students wanting to do something else before heading down the costly college path? Obama talks about wanting to boost numbers of students who actually graduate from college. Instead of pouring money into simply college preparedness programs, how about we also put an emphasis on providing access to “deep” experiences, self-identity development, and opportunities for self-directed learning, career exploration, or apprenticeships?

There certainly has been some progress with using federal funds to provide more of these experiences, through programs such as City Year and AmeriCorps. There are also non-profit organizations such as Amigos De Las Americas (in which all participants are trained in fundraising for their own trip), Global Glimpse, Summer SearchGlobal Citizen Year and others which offer opportunities for scholarships. However, for students who are a bit more DIY in their approach, or who have a specific idea for what they would want to do (start a business, write a book, make a film, etc.), it’s a lot more challenging and difficult to find funding. I’ve had to work side jobs while living at home or traveling to pay for most of what I’ve been doing over this past year and a half. Additionally, crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo,  can be helpful for students to find alternative ways to raise funds for their “eduventures.”

A girl wrote to me a few months back who told me that she had stumbled across my blog and was seeking advice. After a few semesters at Swarthmore College, she was questioning if it was the right choice for her, and was really looking for a way in which to take time off to explore her interests further. However, her parents live in a rural area of Texas and she didn’t have the finances to move to a more urban location to pursue an internship or similar opportunities. I’ve spent a few months during the past year living at home with my parents in the Bay Area, and I know that I was very fortunate to have been in an area that was well-suited for what I wanted to learn. The location provides me with access to mentors, internships, events, and classes that have helped to build my learning path. One solution I can offer to this is seeking out work exchanges. While traveling in Europe last fall, I worked at a hostel in Scotland last October in exchange for room and board between couchsurfing stints. Workway, Helpx, WWOOF, Transitions Abroad, and even using craigslist for au pair and housekeeping jobs can help. 

But beyond taking other jobs, fundraising, and work exchanges, in order to meet the demand of an increasing amount of students, the overall infrastructure needs to be analyzed and further developed. Creating and designing co-living spaces in urban areas for alternative or independent learners, made possible with scholarships and/or stipends of some sort (or other creative funding options) would be cool and could be further explored. I’m in ongoing discussions with several people about the potential opportunities for ideas like these. We’ll see where things go. Let’s make sure that Eduventurism is not something that is only possible for those with easy access to funds!

P.S. “The Project” section of this site has been updated, if you are curious to read how I am now describing what I’m doing and why, go ahead and check it out!

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2 Responses to “Equal Access”

  1. monika hardy April 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    bravo. and totally agree.
    we have plenty of money’s and resources for this all to be free. if we just used them differently.
    so with you on the co-living spaces.. working to model that as well.

  2. Sandy Furrh April 17, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Yes Weezie! Keep working so that the idea of an Alternative Path can be available for anyone who chooses that path.

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