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U Of I Professor Makes Case For ‘The College Experience’

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

Editor’s note: At the request of Nikki Usher, we changed the pronouns in this article that pertain to Usher from ‘she’ to ‘they.’ We also changed the photograph at their request.  – Reginald Hardwick, News Director, March 26, 2024

College students across the country have tried to adapt to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly affected their college experience.

Masha Gessen wrote a piece for The New Yorker this week about higher education during the pandemic titled, “How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Shattered the Myth of College in America.”

That piece struck a nerve with University of Illinois journalism professor Nikki Usher. They wrote an essay for Medium in response titled, “College isn’t a myth, it’s an experience.”

Illinois Newsroom’s Brian Moline talks with Nikki Usher about the “college experience.”

Usher says after reading Gessen’s article, they felt compelled to respond.

“For so many people, college is the singular defining experience of their entire lives,” Usher said. “What also frustrated me (about Gessen’s article) was her reduction of the college experience into the accusation that…colleges were nothing more than glorified hospitality industries and, at worst, hedge funds.”

They said their experience living in a residence hall while they were a professor at George Washington University confirmed to her how important the college experience outside of the classroom is to young people.

“College is about being at a place with people who are roughly in your age span, who are all thinking about the potential for doing something,” Usher said. “Being away from home, and trying new things, getting involved in activities they may have never even thought about.”

Usher says during the pandemic, they have tried to keep her students focused on the course materials, but they miss having other interactions with them.

“One of the things I know I miss is not having them drop by my office, just to have these types of conversations,” Usher said. “I miss being in that dynamic space with my students.”

Brian Moline is the host of Morning Editon on WILL, and the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom. Follow him @BMolineWILL.

Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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