APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Answering the Student Question: 'Am I Heading in the Wrong Direction with College?'

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Get started on a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

As a professor of online education, I calculate that about 500 students come into my sphere of influence a year. After 10 years of teaching, that means I have had contact with 5,000 adult students.

My students range from those in active military service to soon-to-be veterans to truck drivers wanting to change careers. About one in every 100 students is not sure what he or she is doing in college and wonders whether getting a job that does not require a college degree would be a better career path.

Emails from a Student Wondering Whether or Not to Stay in School

As a teacher, my specialty is instruction. But sometimes students come to me with a query about staying in school. We have already bonded with a level of trust, so some students seek my advice.

The following is an edited excerpt from an actual email I received from a student.

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth,

I am wondering if I am heading in the wrong direction with college. In the class I was in this week to transition out of the Navy, we were told that employers required workers, not corporate types. I was like, “So what, you’re telling me my CDL [commercial driver’s license] is more valuable than my soon to be college degree in transportation and logistics management?”

I just feel all this work at the end of the day will be for nothing after completion of the degree. What are your thoughts and suggestions on this matter?

I told this student that I would not respond for at least one day. Looking over the student’s bio, it was clear to me that my approach had to be on a personal and deeply honest level, without any bias toward the standard data-driven approach of how valuable a college degree is compared to not having a college degree.

Here is an excerpt of my reply to the student:

That is an interesting phrase, “…if I am heading in the wrong direction with college.” Books are written on it, and the answers are as varied as the many wonderful paths for each of us to take in life, and changes due to time, aging, career paths now and unseen in your future.

Your CDL is valuable right now. Go get a rig and drive and drive. Be careful to study all the new federal rules and regulations, so as not to lose your CDL. I am a lifetime OOIDA [Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association] member and keep up to date with the trucker issues. Are you a member? Join. Join OOIDA as a trucker.

Your first career in the Navy is about to end. It is only your first career.

A career as a trucker or truck driver is a good choice. If you want to drive for the next 20 years or 50 years, go for it.

Many do not have the luxury of a former first career in the Navy. They drove from about 18 years old until they are now 48 to 58 years old and are taking a college class toward a degree in Transportation and Logistics Management – their first-ever college degree. I am their first college professor.

Do you want to start your own trucking company? Many drivers do. They want to make the 100% of the payment from the shipper, not just a part of that money.

Have fun. And stay in college.

Just think ahead. Do not just look for the paycheck over the next year or even the next three years. Coffee helps with this. LOL.

All my best,

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth

The student then replied:

Dr. Hedgepeth,

I went through and re-read this at least five times and I love it. Thank you for replying and assisting me with this matter. I always love to talk to the truckers in the world. I will be a trucker after two things are complete. One, the Navy; and two, online school. Lots to think over and drink a lot of coffee. LOL.

This was followed by a second email:

Dr. Hedgepeth,

This is precisely what I needed to read today. I did do this with my thoughts and wrote down on paper what I want. The commitment is not serious at the moment, and that is why I was fishing for a company from you the other day, meaning I have no clue as to who a great starter company would be to go with and you replied.

I much appreciate that. I do desire to drive. I do have my CDL now. My wife told me when I got out to just do it and move forward. So she is good with me doing the trucking. I would like to stay in contact with you even after the class, and I would love to call you and have a conversation with you about trucking.

Thanks again for caring and sharing.

A student’s positive response to stay in college and complete a degree is not always reached as fast as this student did. Such decisions often take up to six months.

Sharing Personal Gossip Increases Student Engagement in the Online Classroom

In my experience, I have found that soft, personal gossip keeps online students engaged in classroom discussions week after week. It encourages student retention by keeping students in the course.

My approach to this student was a rather lengthy extension of that soft gossip technique of sharing personal stories relating directly to the inner feelings of students. In an online classroom, students are more likely to open up about their fears, ask questions and feel more comfortable talking to a stranger (me) than they would with close friends or relatives.

In addition, APUS has academic advisors with program-specific expertise to offer assistance when you’re struggling, as my student was. They can provide useful feedback and suggestions when you need them.

Do you have a story like this when you helped some student overcome the hurdles of online classroom life? If so, please contact me. I’m in the book.

Get started on a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.

Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at APU Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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