Learning curves: hacking higher ed

Learning curves: hacking higher ed

The average cost of public, in-state college has reached $10,423 per year and is increasing at a rate of over 7 percent annually. Undergraduate enrollment continues to decline, with many students citing the cost of enrollment as the reason for their decision to delay or forgo higher education.

Dr. Cimone Wright-Hamor is working to change the mindset of those considering college.

“The days of getting a degree and being guaranteed a job are over. My goal is to show that college is a business, and that the goal is not necessarily the degree. If you approach college as a consumer, you lose the game.”

“When I learned how to run a college, I turned it to my advantage. They’re a business, and you can operate like a business, too. It only works if you break even or come out ahead.”

With this assignment, Dr. Wright-Hamor obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in computer engineering without student loan debt. As one of the hopefuls who anxiously watches my email for updates on the public student loan forgiveness program currently in litigation, Dr. Wright-Hamoor’s perspective piqued my interest. So how did she do it?

“I applied on the FAFSA, and I also applied for scholarships. Most people don’t know that you can negotiate your tuition – if a university has reason to believe you’ll have a promising career, or if you have family already engaged in a successful career in your field of study, they’re likely to give a discount on tuition.

Many students also do not know that scholarships are a numbers game. Credit unions, foundations, the schools themselves, alumni associations — Alumni associations give every single month! It is very rare that a student calls and simply asks what is available. I did that every month. When you treat applying for scholarships like a job, it becomes a system that gives you money.”

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Instead of seeking large grants, Dr. Wright-Hamor sought out small, local grants that she was more likely to receive. When she was awarded more scholarship dollars than her FAFSA determined she would actually need, she called the organization that provided those funds and asked them to hold it over to next year to avoid losing federal student funding.

“I lived off my internships, and board and lodging were paid. When I received my student aid refund checks, I invested them in real estate. By the time I graduated I had amassed half a million dollars in real estate.”

Dr. Wright-Hamor describes 3 pillars as the foundation of her method of engaging in higher education: General Knowledge, Resources, and Networking. In her forthcoming book, Manufactured Education: How to get a Bachelor’s Without Selling Your Soul, she encourages those considering college to leverage these three pillars to accelerate your career.

How did you develop this approach?

“My first semester in college, I had a meal plan that conflicted with my schedule. I couldn’t eat or I would have to miss class or ROTC. At the end of the semester, on paper, I still had half of my meals left. I should got $3000 back but the food dept showed me a no refund clause there was no rollover it was just gone!

That’s what showed me that college was a business.”

You are very disciplined and methodical. Is it congenital? Have you always performed well?

“I am a remedial underachiever. I flunked every class except math through 6th grade. I had a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program named Cathy Savage who offered to pay me $20 for every A on my next report card , and I went from straight Fs to straight As. I didn’t know I was dyslexic, didn’t even know dyslexia existed. She taught me a reading technique, and paid for me to take more classes at EduCare. We’ve kept in touch – I just spoke to her last week.”

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In addition to her upcoming literary debut, Dr. Wright-Hamor spreads her message through speaking engagements. Her goal with these conversations?

“To help people understand that sometimes businesses evolve around you in a way that they no longer feel like a business. A university has a president instead of a CEO, departments instead of divisions, colleges of instead of product lines — but the structure is the same. Unfortunately, consumers are less concerned about the money because it doesn’t feel like a business, so the threat is gone.”

Higher education is one of the biggest financial and time investments we make – or not. A common refrain that prospective students hear time and time again is “Just sign up and you can figure out what you want to do when you get there.” However, it doesn’t provide much encouragement to use strategy. I’ve never heard a similar perspective when buying a home (and there are certainly homes that can be purchased for less than my college education cost.)

As the world evolves, some of our lay perceptions of the function of higher education may need to be reassessed. There is value in an educated population – we have enormous challenges to face as a collective, and an uninformed majority making decisions for everyone can have nightmarish consequences. (Climate change comes to mind. Vaccinations, too. A bizarre fear of 5G cell service and mind control.) In general, people tend to leave college more well-rounded and prepared for community engagement than they arrived.

That said, when I check those student loan balances…some strategy around leveraging the college experience for career acceleration would have done me the world of good.

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To learn more about Dr. Cimone Wright, visit cimonespeaks.com

To support Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit

Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette Editorial Fellow. Comments: [email protected]

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