Published in the April 25, 2014 Santa Maria Times.

“Education is the transmission of civilization,” observed historian Will Durant. But beyond this broad definition, the purpose of education is a topic of continuing debate.

Students have their own ideas about what an education should be. I recently polled my classes to find out what they expect to get from their education at Allan Hancock College, and what challenges they are facing as they pursue their education.

Students come to Hancock with a varying set of expectations, intentions and goals. Many want to further their education by continuing on to a four-year institution. Some are hoping to earn more money at their present job. Others are hoping to find a better-paying job as a result of their education.

”Or else all this studying is for nothing,” as one student said.

Hancock counselor Norma Hernandez said, “Students expect to get a quality education, have access to instructors, counseling and services. They want to be well-informed.”

Counselor Lisa McKinley agrees: “They are expecting a quality education that equips them for a job, a career, or a successful transfer to a four-year university.”

In the survey I conducted, 90 percent of students agreed that by furthering their education, they were creating a better future for themselves.

”Education can open doors to better opportunities in life,” said one.

Another stated, “With what I have learned in college, I enjoy my outlook on life that much more.”

But students have less unanimity when asked about the purpose of education.

”I think my education should be more focused on what my career requires,” wrote one. Another said, “Education should be more realistic than just reading out of a text book.” Another believes education should be focused “on what one needs to know for his or her career,” a thought that was echoed by a classmate, who asked, “Why take classes that have nothing to do with your career?”

Lisa McKinley agrees with that, saying, “General education can become irrelevant” to students “in light of the subject matter they desire to focus on.”

Others, however, value education for its own sake.

”It gives you a wide range of knowledge,” said one. “Education should focus on learning.”

In terms of the challenges students are facing, money came up over and over. One student simply wrote “Money!!!”

”The greatest challenge I face,” said another, “is money, because education is so very expensive.”

Counselor Hernandez concurs, and also points out students have to deal with issues of childcare and transportation.

Time management is another common issue for students.

”Balancing work, school and family,” said one. “Life gets in the way of education,” said another. “Bills have got to be paid.”

Some are pessimistic about the future.

”You can go to college and still end up with the same job,” wrote one.

”Otherwise I am going into debt in vain,” wrote another, when asked if they expected to get a better-paying job. “It won’t change anything,” wrote another.

Nearly two-thirds of students surveyed plan to transfer to a four-year college, with

15 percent saying no to that idea, and 20 percent not sure. More than a third want to get a Bachelor’s Degree, 27 percent a Master’s, and 9 percent would like to get a PhD.

What helps students succeed in the educational goals? Norma Hernandez points to “Programs like EOPS, CARE, Cal-Works — anywhere students can receive guidance, support, motivation and information.”

In the end, everyone agrees students are searching for ways to make the most of their education and their life. One student stated: “I want to be the best at what I do.”

Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA