As often as we see commercials on television advertising for-profit colleges and universities that provide degrees for adults returning to school, it is easy to think that the idea of adult education is a relatively new one. Despite the increase in adult programs, however, the idea of adult or continuing education is hardly a new one. In fact, about a century ago, there was a famous movement called the Chautauqua Movement that advocated adult education and sponsored lecture circuits, musicians and entertainers, and assemblies across the nation. Its goal was to demonstrate that learning did not stop after high school, because there is always more to learn. The Chautauqua organizations advocated for a highly open and democratic way for everyone, young and old, to access further education.
Chautauqua still exists today, although not in the widespread form it once did. This particular organization, however, is not the only way to access education outside of the classroom. One of the many benefits of being at a state university, or really any university, is that we have access to a wide variety of (often free) lecturers and entertainers that come to campus for the simple reason that they want to share their area of expertise with curious students outside of the classroom. There is always at least one lecture, concert or talk every week here on campus — next week alone, there are two music recitals, a UT Science Forum, an architecture lecture, and a film screening and talk, among many other things. As the Chautauqua movement emphasized years ago, there are always opportunities to expand our education outside of our classes, and UT is constantly providing ways for us to do so.
So why do we bother to advertise these events to such an extent? Why even mention these events in a column, when you can simply look online to see what events are coming up? The reason, unfortunately, is that not enough people take advantage of these opportunities. Of course, we all have busy lives and do not always have time in the evenings or during the day to attend an extra event. But the real issue is that many students simply do not want to. They do not see any benefit to learning anything outside of their major and simply wish to get by in life knowing only the bare minimum required to get a job in their field. Anything else is extraneous, irrelevant and a waste of time.
This is exactly the reason why college has become all but required to be hired in today's economy. Employers assume that the people they are interviewing are generally qualified for the job. The level of competition that employers seek in their employees certainly depends on our grade point averages, our skills and our work ethic. But when it comes down to deciding between two almost identical candidates, the things that set one apart from the other are the candidates' interests outside of the field of that particular job. The reason employers focus on hobbies, extracurriculars and other activities is both because they are seeking "well-rounded" individuals, and also because they are seeking people with a genuine desire to learn and to experience the wide variety of things the world has to offer. A love of learning will not just appeal to your future employers, but will make your life richer well beyond your college career. So take advantage of the opportunities UT provides to continue learning. Like those of generations before us, it is important to recognize that there is always more to learn.
— Sarah Russell is a senior in history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.