Learn More About Wendy Fischman
Higher education is at a crossroads. There is a damaging disconnect between what many young people (and their parents) are expecting or getting from a high school or college experience and what administrators and faculty believe they should deliver. Institutions of higher education have lost their way and need to refocus on their primary mission of developing and amplifying students’ ability to think well, broadly, and responsibly about issues that matter to the “real world.”
How can higher education leaders help students understand the long-term value of learning beyond seeing it as a path to a degree or job? How can high school leaders help formulate an educational experience that will promote well-being, a sense of belonging and ultimately send helpful messages to students about the role of education in their lives as college students, future workers and citizens?
After more than two decades of study and thousands of in-depth interviews with students, faculty, administrators, parents, alums, trustees and recruiters across the U.S., acclaimed education and human development scholar Wendy Fischman – a longtime researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – has amassed a treasure trove of insights into how the U.S. education system is viewed and experienced by stakeholders. A trusted advisor, speaker and researcher, she helps decision makers across the sector, including deans, administrators, principals, educators and policymakers, positively transform their institutions and the students they serve.
In their eye-opening book “The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What It Can Be” (MIT Press, March 2022), Fischman and her co-author, esteemed developmental and cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner, reveal the powerful results of more than 2,000 interviews across 10 disparate institutions of higher learning in the U.S. As social scientists, using both quantitative and qualitative analyses, they present empirical “real-world” evidence that reaches beyond the news headlines and, in some cases, challenges them. They then offer recommendations on how schools, and the sector as a whole, can enrich learning experiences in ways that provide lifelong benefits to students.
“During our research we were surprised to discover that more than half the students, and their parents, are not particularly interested in developing the mind,” Fischman reveals. “They approach the college experience with a ‘transactional’ view, that the purpose of college is to secure the first job. Fewer students are ‘exploratory,’ seeking to marinate in new ideas, try out new disciplines, interests and experiences; and only a small minority are ‘transformational,’ viewing college as an opportunity to consider and reflect on beliefs, values and perspectives, and to expand the mind. A troubling and unexpected discovery is that the transactional view — pressure to achieve and earn — is what students describe as causing many of the mental health issues on college campuses.”
The book is a culmination of the work the co-authors have been doing for more than two decades in conjunction with Harvard’s Project Zero and The Good Project. A research collaborative founded in 1996 by Gardner and legendary psychologists William Damon and the late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Good Project focuses on helping young people navigate dilemmas to carry out excellent, ethical, engaging work – equipping them with the tools they need to make reflective, responsible, and thoughtful decisions throughout life.
Fischman’s insightful research and unique perspectives give educational leaders the information they need to cultivate open-minded thinkers and problem solvers who graduate with a more expansive view of the world and their important place in it.
“People have been eager to read our book because an in-depth qualitative study of higher education has not been carried out in decades,” says Fischman. “We hope it sparks conversations about the importance of making educational experiences more transformational and exploratory, and less transactional. We need to ask ourselves what it means to prepare students for ‘the real world.’” Is the real world just about work, or is it about citizenship, community and life?”
Wendy Fischman has spent years researching the higher education landscape with Dr. Howard Gardner, allowing them to make data-driven recommendations on how to improve the system for all students, no matter their reasons for attending college or their goals in life. Fischman has co-developed a curriculum for students and teachers to introduce the concept of “good work” in classrooms and schools. Since 1996, she has managed various aspects of the GoodWork® Project, specifically focusing on the meaning of work in the lives of young children, adolescents and novice professionals. She has published articles about education and human development in several scholarly and popular publications, addressing topics such as lifelong commitment to service work, inspirational mentoring and teaching in precollegiate education. Fischman has taught humanities to middle school students and has evaluated school reform programs facilitated by a government-sponsored regional laboratory.
Wendy Fischman is available to talk with and advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.