With a wide range of experience in the world of higher education, Kirk Branch, a professor in the English department, shared his thoughts on higher education and why it is important.
Branch began his journey in higher education at Marquette University, double majoring in English and history. He eventually decided to pursue graduate school. “I went to graduate school out of a love for learning and an excitement about literature,” he explained. In graduate school, Branch found a love for teaching, which sustained his desire to learn and pass information on to students. Branch has taught at MSU since 2002 and also taught in Java, Indonesia as a Fulbright Scholar.
Until recently Branch directed the writing center on campus. He has taught English and literacy classes in many settings including a county jail and four universities. Branch worked for the U.S. State Department and worked in Nepal conducting workshops. He also founded and directs the Yellowstone Writing Project, which helps with professional development for K-12 teachers in Montana.
Branch stated that he realizes that higher education is not the most practical goal for many people, largely due to financial reasons. “The cost of higher education in the U.S. right now is a scandal. It should be recognized as a social crisis,” he said. Branch lamented about the financial restrictions associated with a college degree, but maintained that higher education is important and worthwhile.
“It’s putting students in the terrible position of racking up so much debt. They’re trapped in debt.” Branch says that the cost of higher education acts as a deterrent from certain careers and professions and also narrows post graduation opportunities such as travel, exploration and volunteer work.
“There’s this kind of vocational mindedness now,” Branch said, noting that many students pursue degrees for economic purposes, putting aside passions and interests. “It’s unsettling when you have students who are only thinking about what a degree can do for them in terms of their economic future.” Branch believes that this mentality leads to many unasked questions about social justice, social structure and equality. “There’s some danger about that in the culture [of higher education].”
Branch noted the value a college education can have on the lives of young adults. “You don’t know quite who you are at the age of 18.” To Branch, college education can work as a guiding force for people who have uncertainties about career and life choices.
Branch continued to say, “Higher education helps you see a bigger chunk of the world.” He believes that studying a field that one is interested in allows students to try and make the world a better place. The prominence of pursuing degrees for the sole reason of financial security, “it represents a potential failure of the imagination,” and a possible “sacrifice of life on some level,” he said.
The value Branch places on a college degree is tied to the idea of a good education, not just the diploma that increases a person’s workplace value. Higher education, Branch stressed, helps facilitate “movement between community work and teaching work.”