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Akst: Cheerleading college in 2013

It’s on.

For the next 15 weeks, I’ll do my best to stretch the brains (in a good way) of about 80 Northern Illinois University students in the five classes I’m teaching.

But in stretching, one must heed the dangers of spraining, of exhaustion, of needless repetition. Teachers strive to make learning challenging but not overwhelming.

Subject matter is the main thing I’m paid for, but I care about my students. I’m on a paternal section of the road of life, and my colorful history in early adulthood compels me to offer bits of life advice here and there.

Advice like: Drinking games might seem fun – they were in my day, too – but they’re stupid and extremely dangerous. And: Take notes. Taking notes makes you look interested. Employers like that.

Anyway, between now and early May, I will spend many hours in class with students, lecturing, discussing, asking them questions and guiding their emerging techniques as journalists and public relations professionals.

Evenings, I will edit, grade and give feedback on more than 300 written assignments and about 150 design assignments. I’ll also grade about 60 quizzes, tests and exercises.

All the while, I’ll try to avoid bitterness that most of these young adults will start their careers making more money than I do, and I’ll try humbly to live up to Albert Einstein, who once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

I mention all this because on a macro level, post-secondary education is not feeling the love. Major magazines, newspapers and TV programs are openly questioning whether college is “worth it.”

State legislatures and governors continue to cut support to colleges and universities (while demanding terabytes of data justifying our existence and bleating about increasing tuition). We’re far from fault-free, too. Colleges spend lots of money on questionable activities and people.

But I’m setting negativity aside for now because of some good news (for a change).

The National Association of Colleges and Employers – a widely watched nonprofit association consisting of more than 3,000 colleges, universities and employers that link college career services professionals and employers of new college graduates – has recently published its 2013 job outlook.

NACE forecasts that employers anticipate hiring 13 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2013 than they did in 2012. One area of very strong growth is in retail, the annual survey said, where employers plan to hire 47 percent more college graduates this year than last.

More good news: NIU is a good deal. In December, PayScale, an organization that analyzes salary and career data, reported that the cost of a bachelor’s degree at NIU – compared with the costs of other state colleges and similar institutions – is a better investment “than almost all of the state’s 12 public, four-year universities, ranking behind only University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Illinois at Chicago,” according to the Daily Chronicle story that reported the findings.

More good news (in a sense). The Pew Internet & American Life Project, a project of the Pew Research Center, predicts that in our evolving online culture and workplace, “Internet literacy,” a concept that “generally refers to the ability to search effectively for information online and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well,” will be among the most desired skills in the near-term future.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University.
You can reach him at

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