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College

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Most of us like to try to peer into the future and see what may lie ahead. That’s one attraction of a world’s fair and of futurist books. One such popular book of half a century ago was “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler, which dealt with how people can adapt to changes and even embrace them. During this coronavirus pandemic, the first such in 100 years, consensus seems to be that life will be changed after the disease ends, that this is a defining moment in
our history.

But how will things change?

A columnist for The New York Times, David Leonhardt, tried to provide a few answers this past Sunday in his article entitled. “It’s 2022. What does life look like?” Here is some of what he has to say that you and I can probably agree with, understanding that the timing of a vaccine can, in turn, alter the most clairvoyant of predictions.

Many traditional department stores will disappear. Already weakened by specialty stores like Home Depot or discount stores like Costco, the one-stop of Sears and J.C. Penny have been bypassed by shoppers, who have also embraced the convenience of the internet. Walmart and Amazon are among the world’s richest public companies today. Retailers in general have been stricken by the consumer move to online shopping. As investment guru Warren Buffett has been often quoted, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Retail stores that have just managed to hang on will now experience a death blow. This could be devastating for shopping malls that depend on retailers’ rent. Of course, after a vaccine frees people to go shopping as something more like recreation, those retailers who provide an “experience” along with their goods for sale will have a better chance of surviving and even thriving. The demise of small retailers will have a huge impact on villages and unemployment, I believe. Many residents across the country work in their local stores.

Another change will be in higher education, according to Leonhardt. Dozens of colleges, private and public, despite being heavily subsidized by government, are in trouble. There are a couple of reasons. While college enrollment has pretty consistently been growing in the United States since the Civil War, in the last decade undergraduate numbers have fallen, the result of fewer births and, I believe, of a reconsideration of the value of pricey college education. Colleges have lost the revenue from summer school, from food service and parking fees. Of greatest concern is the imminent reduction of state aid due to stricken state budgets. The big question now is whether colleges will be able to bring back students for fall classes. If they cannot return, revenue is likely to drop sharply. Remote learning was not as successful or satisfying as was hoped. This could have severe implications for the educational level of the next generation of Americans.

The positive side of the remote coin can be found among white collar workers, many of whom will prefer to work at least part of the week from home in the future. There will be less business commuting, less travel with attendant fatigue, less cost. But that will negatively affect commercial real estate, the airlines and hotels.

The third at-risk industry, in Leonhardt’s view is local newspapers. “Between 2008 and 2019, American newspapers eliminated about half of all newsroom jobs. The virus has led to more job cuts — and could end up forcing dozens more papers to fold … If that happens, their cities will be left without perhaps the only major source of information about local politics, business, education and the like.” To what end? “Corruption and political polarization tend to rise while voter turnout tends to fall,” says Leonhardt. In short, the community begins to shrivel.

The solution, as we see the future, is to embrace change and make it work for us. That is why we here at the local newspapers are also the popular news website, tbrnewsmedia.com with almost 150,000 unique viewers a month. We are the sponsors of several social platforms and the innovators of such valued print products as the 2020 graduation supplement and the TBR Artists Coloring Book released in the last month alone. With, and only with your support, we at Times Beacon Record News Media are here to stay.

Right, Laura Burns of Nesconset just recently graduated from St. Joseph’s College, though she finds her job prospects diminished due to the pandemic; left, Matthew Hoth of Miller Place said he was unable to do his internship at a mental health care facility due to COVID-19. right photo by Claudia Reed; left photo from Hoth

Recent college graduates on Long Island are faced with uncertainty as they begin to pursue their respective careers. Their 2020 graduating class will encounter a number of challenges as they enter one of the most daunting job markets, not seen since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Not only did the COVID-19 crisis truncate their last semesters of college, it stripped them of graduation ceremonies. It put jobs, internships and other opportunities on standby. Some local graduates are being forced to adapt and stay sharp while they wait for the job market to rebound. 

Nesconset resident Laura Burns, who recently graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue with a political science degree, said when the pandemic hit it felt like “everything was spiraling out of control.” 

“A lot of my classmates, myself included, lost a lot of local opportunities because of COVID-19.”

— Matthew Hoth

“I remember taking my last midterm and then they canceled all classes before spring break. We didn’t even get a last goodbye,” she said. “It felt like we were forgotten.”

Burns was disappointed that she could have a proper graduation ceremony, saying it would have been a special moment for her and her family, as her mother also graduated from the college.  

The St. Joseph’s grad had to rethink her initial future plans. 

“Before COVID hit I was thinking about maybe pursuing a graduate school or law school — that’s what I felt was the practical thing to do,” she said. “Even if I wanted to try to get a job in political science it would be pretty difficult right now.”

Burns said some of her friends have gotten part-time jobs working at grocery stores for the time being. 

Potential short-term options such as working at a restaurant or other retailers are unavailable, as Suffolk County is only in Phase One of the reopening process. Most retailers will be able to reopen more during Phase Two. Restaurants will have to wait even longer. 

Burns said she will most likely plan on taking classes at Suffolk Community College and could continue to pursue acting, something she has done since she was younger. 

This past February, the job market looked promising with employers adding 273,000 new positions, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. 

Just last week, more than 2 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits, according to a U.S. Department of Labor weekly report. It brought the total number of jobs lost to over 40 million. 

Matthew Hoth of Miller Place, who graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a master’s degree in data analytics, is trying to stay optimistic and positive about his future job prospects. 

“A lot of my classmates, myself included, lost a lot of local opportunities because of COVID-19,” he said. 

Hoth had an internship lined up with a local health and mental health care facility, but that all changed when the coronavirus hit.  

“I had talks with them for a while, I was really looking forward to interning there,” the recent graduate said. 

In addition, his last semester was going to be used to network and make connections in his field. He and his peers missed out on attending workshops that could have brought him face to face with potential employers. 

“I had some leads on some jobs locally, but then everything kind of stopped dead in its tracks,” Hoth said. “Right now, I’m trying to get more program certifications to add to my resume and updating my LinkedIn [account].”

To fill the void of the internship and in an effort to add some work experience to his resume, Hoth is considering freelancing, special projects and working remotely.  

“With companies cutting and laying off people it is discouraging to see,” he said. “But I’m optimistic that the economy and job market will eventually bounce back,” he said. 

Victoria Arcuri

Victoria Arcuri of Holbrook, a recent graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology, was looking forward to starting a full-time position at a creative agency in New York City she had interned at during her last semester of school. Due to the effects of the pandemic, the agency had to put her postgraduation hiring on hold but extended her internship. 

“My boss was like, ‘right now we are not in the position to hire you, but there is still a possibility for a full-time position,’” she said. “Without COVID, I’d have a full-time job right now.”

“I remember taking my last midterm and then they canceled all classes before spring break. We didn’t even get a last goodbye.”

— Laura Burns

Due to social distancing restrictions, Arcuri, who studied graphic design, and her fellow classmates also missed out on other potential professional opportunities. Their senior exhibition, an event where students get the chance to present their portfolio in front of professors and professionals in the industry, was instead held online this year. 

“At first I was disappointed, but I realized there were worse things going on than not having the show,” Arcuri said. 

After commuting to school for the majority of her college career, the FIT grad had hopes of moving to Brooklyn once she started her full-time job. Those plans have now been stalled as well. 

The Holbrook resident said if she can’t secure a full-time position with the agency, she’ll look for other options in the short term.  Freelancing and contract work could be a possibility, given a potential business climate where there is more work done remotely. 

At her internship, presentations and meetings with clients are done through Zoom and they can send most of the things they’re working on via email. 

“In graphic design we do most of our work on a computer or on our laptops, so it wouldn’t be too bad if I worked from home,” Arcuri said. “Though if I had a choice I’d prefer to be in a studio.”

She reiterated that many college grads are a bit scared about their own futures.  

“Some companies and businesses might not come back the same, a lot of them have taken a big hit and that will affect us,” Arcuri said.

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

To address the critical shortfall of skilled young and beginning farmers and ranchers, congressional leaders, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), introduced June 13 the Young Farmer Success Act. If adopted, the bill would encourage careers in agriculture, by adding farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes teachers, nurses, first responders and other public service professions. Under the program, eligible public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments can have the balance of their loans forgiven.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Our country’s farmers are part of the backbone of our nation, and while they are critical to ensuring American families have food to put on the table, all too often the next generation of farmers is finding that a career in agriculture makes it difficult to put food on their own table,” Zeldin said. “After graduating college, aspiring farmers are saddled with crippling student loan debt and the daunting costs of agricultural businesses, oftentimes driving them from a career feeding our country.” 

The new legislation will allow the next generation of farmers to pursue a career serving the American people, eliminating the disincentive to study agriculture in school and getting them on the farm when they graduate.

Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices. Young and beginning farmers often see small profits or even losses in their first years of business. With the majority of existing farmers nearing retirement age, and very few young people entering the farming or ranching profession, America is beginning to face an agricultural crisis. Since the Dust Bowl, the federal government has taken steps to support farmers, and the Young Farmer Success Act supports farmers through a different approach — finding a tangible pathway to pay off student loans that will offer incentives to a new generation of career farmers.

“Eighty-one percent of the young farmers who responded to our 2017 national survey hold a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree,” Martin Lemos, National Young Farmers Coalition interim executive director, said. “This means there is a very small population of beginning farmers without student loan debt. With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by 6:1, we need to do more for the next generation of farmers to succeed. We are grateful for the bill’s bipartisan champions, Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-PA), Josh Harder (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin. With the support of Congress, we will encourage those who wish to pursue a career in farming to serve their country by building a brighter future for U.S. agriculture.”

In 2011, National Young Farmers Coalition conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found 78 percent of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 follow-up survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000. The same study also found 53 percent of respondents are currently farming, but have a hard time making their student loan payments and another 30 percent are interested in farming, but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Probably the worst part of the fraud committed by parents to get their children into top colleges is the message it sends to their children. The parents are saying plainly that the children are not capable of succeeding on their own. Regardless of what they may have told their children, actions speak louder than words, and these parents have demonstrated that in order to succeed, one has to lie, cheat, bribe and otherwise con one’s way to the goal. 

And what is the goal here? Just getting into college, not making a million-dollar deal or getting on Easy Street for life. Yes, a college degree usually helps a person to get a better job. It also supposedly helps that person to become a more developed human. But a college graduate is merely on the threshold of the rest of his or her life, with no guarantees of any sort except the number of years one has spent in schools.

There are colleges considered top tier, but they promise nothing more than a sheepskin if one passes all the requisite courses. Are the professors better in a top-tier college? One might think that. Or one might suspect that some of the big name faculty use postgraduate teaching assistants to do the daily teaching with little student contact while they do research, travel to give lectures and win grants, contributing to the university’s standing more than to that of the students’ education. A top college degree might be a good name to drop in social circles, but in a long life performance is ultimately what counts.

Who gets the benefit of that name? Is it the child? Or is it the parents when relating the successes of their offspring? I remember a cartoon in one of the magazines about the time my children were going through that nerve-racking period of receiving acceptances — and rejections. In the center of the cartoon was the back of a car, with a close-up of the rearview window. And at the bottom left corner of the window, proudly displayed, was the sticker of the desired college, followed by the words, “also accepted in” with the other top-tier college stickers paraded across the width of the glass. Exactly whose victory was that touting? Why, that of the parents, of course. Many of the kids probably didn’t have a car or couldn’t even drive yet.

Now let’s be honest here. Some parents have always tried to help their kids succeed, whether by throwing in a hand with the eighth-grade science project or polishing French pronunciation. And those parents who could afford it have sometimes made lavish donations to colleges in the hopes of aiding the admissions process. But those donations, if they build a new room for the library or contribute to the purchase of equipment in the lab, ultimately help many students. Most important, they are visible and not dishonest. And whether we like it or not, people with more money sometimes use their money to their own advantage. Even the ability to pay for tutoring for the SATs divides the students into the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not illegal.

The other truism is this. Whether in college or in life or just inputting on a computer, garbage in means garbage out. If a student is committed and diligent about studying in college, and there are many good colleges in this country, that student will benefit from the college experience. The opposite is also true. It doesn’t so much matter where one goes to college, but rather what one gets from the college in addition to the piece of paper documenting one’s attendance and tuition payments.

My granddaughter is a high school senior this year and waiting to hear where she will go for the next four years. We all are waiting to hear with her. She has already received acceptances so she knows she will be a college student by fall. Wherever she goes, she will get there honestly and because of the exceptional person that she is. We are so proud of her.

 

 

Ibuki Iwasaki, Eli Doyle, Luke Begley, Charles Clark finish atop their classes

By Anthony Petriello

Ibuki Iwasaki. Photo by Alex Petroski

At the conclusion of the 2018 school year at Earl L. Vandermeulen and Comsewogue high schools, four graduates stood at the top of their respective classes. These extraordinarily talented students include valedictorian Ibuki Iwasaki and salutatorian Eli Doyle from Port Jeff and valedictorian Luke Begley and salutatorian Charles Clark from Comsewogue.

At Earl L. Vandermeulen, Iwasaki finished the year at the top of the class with a 101.4 cumulative grade point average. Iwasaki was president of the National Honor Society and a member of the Mathletes team, for which she competed in more than 20 competitions, and won the All-County title for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am self-motivated,” she said of her academic drive. “My mother trusts me to seek out challenges.”

She attributed her success to her natural curiosity.

“I like to learn and try out new things whenever I can,” she said.

Eli Doyle. Photo by Alex Petroski

Iwasaki was also a member of the Science Olympiad team, where she was a first-place and third-place winner in various competitions. The team travels to universities near and far to compete against other high schools in a sports-style science tournament sponsored by organizations like NASA, Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force. Iwasaki had also been a player on the varsity tennis team since eighth grade and was undefeated individually in the league this year. She is a National Merit Scholarship recipient, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and had earned a perfect score for three years at Level IV NYSSMA on the violin. Iwasaki will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall but said she has not declared an official major.

“I want to take advantage of all the opportunities MIT has to offer,” she said.

Eli Doyle finished high school with a 100.9 GPA. Doyle said he is grateful to the high school faculty for allowing him to achieve greatness.

Luke Begley. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I appreciate the opportunity my school has given me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said.

In addition to being an exemplary student, Doyle excelled on the field as well as the stage, having played tennis since ninth grade, earning honors from the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League, and working as part of the stage crew for school plays, musicals and concerts. He also volunteered at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket and spent his time with the residents, earning him the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Like Iwasaki, he was also a member of the Science Olympiad squad, finishing in first place in both optics and astronomy competitions. He was a member and officer of the Student Organization for all four years of his high school career and had the opportunity to participate in the Simmons Summer Research program at Stony Brook University where he studied ferroelectric fluid, which is a type of magnetic fluid that can be used in many applications from computer hard drives to rocket fuel. Doyle will be attending Brown University this fall where he will study engineering physics.

At Comsewogue, Luke Begley was named valedictorian, finishing with a 101.5 GPA. Begley is a music-minded scholar as well as a scholar-athlete. He was a member of the NYSSMA All-State Orchestra on the double bass and played midfield on the Comsewogue varsity soccer team. He attributed his academic success to his parents and his teachers.

Charles Clark. Photo by Alex Petroski

“They always motivated me and created an environment where I could succeed, and my teachers always knew how to keep me interested and engaged,” he said.

Begley was also the president of the French National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team and an AP Scholar with Distinction during his junior year. He credited his drive to succeed to his close friends.

“We keep a good balance of competition and cooperation where we compete to be the best academically but still help each other when it is necessary,” he said.

Begley will be attending Princeton University this fall where he will be double majoring in physics and music.

Comsewogue salutatorian Charles Clark had a 101.3 GPA to wrap up his senior year. He could not be reached for comment.

It actually makes me cringe when I hear discussions questioning whether a college education is worth the expense. Yes, college loans carried by students after they graduate are astronomical and unprecedented. The average student loan debt for the Class of 2016, for example, is $37,172, up 6 percent from the preceding year. Americans owe, in total, more than $1.48 trillion in student loans spread out over 44 million borrowers, more than the $620 billion owed on credit cards, according to figures obtained from the Student Loan Hero website. Average monthly student loan repayment after graduation, for borrowers 20 to 30 years of age, is $351.

Those are, of course, mammoth numbers that are hard to conceive. But how about this for comparison: Mortgage debt is $8.8 trillion. You can move out of a house, but you only have one head. And what you fill that head with can determine the quality of the rest of your life. Your house may contain your financial equity, but your knowledge base and critical thinking make up your life’s equity.

I know the stories about the college dropouts who become billionaires. Good for them, they don’t have to worry about money. But that is part of the point I am trying to make. Education is not only about money, about the job you will hold or the amount of toys you will own by the time you die. Education is partially about income, as statistics prove. College grads earn more in the course of their lives than high school grads. And while today’s auto mechanic, who goes to a vocational school and who is really a kind of computer engineer can earn as much, perhaps, as a doctor or lawyer, money is not the only value in life. Satisfaction, a key ingredient of happiness, is another.

So what do you get from a college education? Is it worth the price?

First let’s talk about price. In the United States, where education is viewed as the ladder to success, a traditional college education at a fine college has always been ranked at the top of the pyramid. Those schools are also the most expensive because they are mainly private. There are various scholarships to help, but for most without adequate resources those schools can be out of reach. Then there are public universities, many of which are exemplary and much cheaper, particularly if you live in state. And three cheers for the two-year community colleges that can carry you halfway to a college degree with truly minimum expense. There are also work-study schools that may take longer to graduate from, but who is holding a stopwatch on your life?

Anyway, what you get out of college is directly proportional to what you put in. Like the computer expression, it’s garbage in, garbage out. So what is the bottom line here? What can you expect to get out of a good, traditional college?

For starters, there is knowledge, knowledge about almost everything known to humans at the time you
attend. It’s there for the asking, assuming there is room for you to enroll in the classes of your choice. And if you go on to college reasonably soon after you graduate from high school, you can focus on acquiring the knowledge of your choice without the responsibilities of a spouse, a car, a house, children, a dog and making a living. In college, you have a roof over your head, your meals are prepared and the lawn is mowed for you. The knowledge you choose to acquire may or may not turn out to be directly applicable to the work that you eventually do, but it will certainly contribute to your understanding of your world — scientifically, culturally, historically, economically, politically, and that will give you profound satisfaction. If your job depends on what you know rather than how much you can lift, knowledge will extend your work life, at the senior end when those whose bodies can no longer respond to physical tasks may face uncertain “golden yea
rs.”

Learning, of course, doesn’t depend on or stop with a college education. But appreciation for the value of knowledge grows as we age. Boy, how I wish I could live again those college years. Now I would know why I was there.

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Here are a couple of things to think about in this new year. First, it is the Chinese Year of the Dog. Each year is related to a zodiac animal within a 12-year cycle, and the Dog is in the 11th position, after the Rooster and before the Pig. Other Dog years include births in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and so on. You get the pattern. If you are a Dog, you are undoubtedly loyal, honest, kind, amiable and sincere, although you’re probably not all that good at communications. As a result, sometimes you are perceived as stubborn. However, you make up for that by always being ready to help others.

Enough of that and on to the latest law for Suffolk County. As you have probably experienced by now, wherever you might be shopping and inclined to make a purchase, you will have to add 5 cents to the total if you want a bag. Two bags: 10 cents. Again, you get the pattern. That means if you are shopping in a supermarket or a hardware store or Macy’s, you will need to pay for each bag. We have, however, been trained for such a situation by Costco. For years, those who shop in their warehouse-like stores have carried purchases out to their cars in shopping carts and then loaded the contents into their trunks, one item at a time. Costco has never provided bags, although it has been known to offer boxes when available. The smart ones among us carry cloth bags into the store in advance so we can load cars more efficiently at the end, and I suppose that is what the rest of us will learn to do if we don’t buy the bags. Although the charge is only a nickel, it is irksome because the nickels don’t go toward funding an environmental cause but revert to the store.

So expect to see people crossing parking lots with the items they have just purchased in their hands. While the perennially curious among us will be fascinated to check out what people buy, the instinct to bag a purchase to prove it was paid for rather than whipped off the shelf and out the door will make some of us uneasy. Best to invest in some large and solid cloth bags, which are what they bring to stores in Europe and elsewhere. And by the way, this should be a great help for our local waterways and wildlife since so many plastic bags have caused harm. So BYOB, or “bring your own bag,” and know that you are helping a fish.

On to another topic to consider in 2018. Private schools and universities are going to take a beating from the loss of international students. Total tuition from those students, who generally pay more, will decline as a result of more restrictive immigration policies for those wishing to come to study here. Visa applications are being more carefully scrutinized and foreign students are finding it harder to stay in the United States after graduation. There had been a huge increase in foreign students here, supplying $39 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy last year, but now schools in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries are attracting some of those dollars. The decline in new students nationwide was some 7 percent just this past fall.

That means colleges will have to cut offerings and American-educated grad students who may want to settle here will be lost to the nation. It also means colleges will not be able to help low-income students as much with tuition aid. Diversity is also affected. Enrollment is already falling from China and India, the two biggest sources of students from abroad. Of course this is not only a national issue but also a local one: Stony Brook University is here. Long Island has numerous schools, and with fewer students less money will be spent locally.

Meanwhile enjoy the weather. Let’s celebrate the thaw.

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Here is an interesting bit of research about our friendly computers, one which some of us had already intuited. I will quote from an article in the Nov. 26 edition of The New York Times Sunday Business section: “[A] growing body of evidence shows that overall, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Wow! That means a victory for pen and paper. That means classrooms filled with students busily typing notes as the lecturer speaks are doing themselves a disservice. Ditto for those paying big bucks to attend seminars, workshops and the like, who are shortchanging themselves.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture,” The Times reported. “Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.” Also those students who routinely used laptops in class did significantly less well at the end of the semester.

Because the notes taken on laptops more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries, the theory goes that the lecturer’s words go straight to the students fingers, which are typing faster than they can write, without going through their brains first for processing. To take notes by hand, the listener has to abridge the lecturer’s words in order to keep up and so must consider the essence of what is being said. Enter the brain.

Honestly, I am not a Luddite, looking to smash modern inventions and disavow progress. On the contrary, I marvel many times at what the computer and the internet can do. For example, it is so much easier for me to write my column, rearranging words and whole paragraphs with just the click of the mouse and a couple of keys. Before computers, I practically drank whiteout. And as I am writing, if there is something to check or research, I can engage the internet, get the facts and continue the column with only that brief interruption. So much for the encyclopedias of my youth.

But I still believe there will always be a place for pen and paper. There are instances where jotting something down quickly is easier and time saving compared to pulling out the computer, turning it on, finding the right file and typing in the info.

And then there is my real problem with computers and the internet: addiction. Most people, especially parents with teens, would agree that electronic devices are addicting. It is difficult to get kids to put down their cellphones in favor of conversation. Researchers in Utah are even studying a spike in teen suicides there in the last five years to see if there is a connection. Some 14 percent of the teens had recently lost privileges to use their electronics. Further there has been an increase in teen suicides from 2010 to 2015 across the nation, at the same time as social media use has surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much more research is required before deciding cause and affect here, but anonymous bullying, made possible by Facebook or Twitter and other social networking services, in addition to relationship problems thought to result from diminishing face-to-face interaction, need to be evaluated.

It is not just kids who are so attached to their electronics. I chuckle when I see couples or whole families in restaurants, awaiting their food orders, completely absorbed in their cellphones. Then I feel sad for them. Conversation with people I enjoy is such a major part of life’s pleasures for me, and these phone addicts are missing that opportunity. I can only hope they are texting each other.

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friend of mine, who is about my age and grew up on Long Island, was somewhat timid about going into the Big Apple on her own because she didn’t feel she knew how to get around, but she now is empowered by her car service. She is a member of the customer base of Uber or Lyft or Via — one of those and others that she can summon with her cellphone to take her on her errands around the city. The service comes within two or three minutes, and she gets in and gets out, sometimes sharing the ride with another passenger, without having to so much as reach for her wallet. The fee and tip are automatically charged to her credit card and the price is significantly cheaper than an ordinary taxi. It is as if she had a chauffeured limo at her beck and call. As a result she uses the service more often.

When a store charges prices that are generally considered too high by shoppers, the store invites competition to come into the neighborhood. The same rule of economics applies to manufacturers and to industries. Sometimes that competition takes the more profound form of disruption by competitors who are aided by advances in technology, like the cellphone. In the instance of my friend and many like her, the car services have severely disrupted the taxi industry, dropping the NYC medallion price considerably.

Another vulnerable industry is higher education. As the cost of a college education has gone up over the last 50 years by about twice the rate of inflation, the ability to secure a bachelor’s degree has moved beyond the reach of the average household. The result has been an untenable explosion of student — and parent — educational debt. This trend has also exacerbated the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. Those without a four-year degree earn less over the course of their lives.

While there are good public universities and community colleges, like Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College, that are more reasonably priced and often allow the student to live at home and avoid room and board fees, there is another, growing option for students. Some colleges, including those with more well-known names, are offering bachelor’s degrees online. Although this may have struck many as snake oil in the past, today an online degree has become a viable option thanks to enormous technological gains — with more to come.

Professors can stand in front of a class of students numbering from a handful to several hundred on campus. But thanks to webinars and other advances on the web, their student listeners may number in the thousands. Ah, you say, but they miss the live interaction of a classroom setting. Wrong. The students can now hear each other, as well as the professor, speak to each other and even see each other. There is more interaction over the Internet, in fact, than there is typically in large lecture classes. Shortly the speed of the Internet will reach unimaginable numbers to accommodate the instant transmission of incredible amounts of information. Professors attest to the high quality of response from the online students handing in assignments. There is even technology for locking down computers during tests to prevent cheating.

Online education has already disrupted traditional education, and not just for special one-off events that are typically used by businesses and special-interest groups but for long-term degrees. Just Google “online degree programs USA,” and you will find 10 pages of names for starters. These include 2016 Top Online Colleges & Degrees, The 50 Best Online Colleges for 2016, List of Accredited Online Colleges & Universities, U.S. News & World Report 2016 Best Online Programs, Boston University online programs and so forth.

Habits change more quickly today than at any other time in history. Just ask me how people get the top of the news each day: It’s not so much from newspapers or radio, or from network television or even cable TV — we get up in the morning and eyeball our mobile phones. Pay attention, college administrators and trustees, serious disruption is near.

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The college ranking system fails to take into account the intangibles of a university. Photo from Ryan DeVito

By Ryan DeVito

A certain manufactured meritocracy exists in the United States. Success has become indelibly connected to elite college education in the minds of parents and students. Consequently, a student’s potential is dictated by his or her triumphs in the college arena. The logic goes like this: the higher an institution is ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the better a student is and the better their life will be.

College ranking systems are psychological demons. Thousands of data points tell a story that, year after year, paints a skewed picture of higher education. These ranking systems use algorithms to transform a host of statistics about one school into a single score. Students often use this score to make college decisions.

The existing ranking systems are silly, though. They attempt to compare completely disparate institutions on one inflexible scale. As a result, The Ohio State University can be compared to Pepperdine University. The former is an enormous public university in the middle of a large city; the latter is a small private Christian college perched above the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by mountains. Essentially opposites, U.S. News & World Report tells us that these schools are the same.

Ohio State and Pepperdine scored the same in the rankings algorithm. But these institutions are impossible to compare. Ohio State dominates downtown Columbus with nearly 60,000 students and another 20,000 staff members — all spread across dozens of various colleges, schools and departments. How could you possibly reduce the complexity that is The Ohio State University down to one solitary number?

College ranking systems fail to take into account the intangibles that make a college great. Academic reputation — among leadership at peer institutions — and faculty resources are the two variables given the greatest weight in the U.S. News ranking algorithm. The weight on these variables creates an obvious skew toward the well-endowed private universities that consistently grace the top of the rankings list. Rankings drive reputation and funding, and so a glass ceiling forms that keeps lower-ranked schools from every establishing their brands. But these variables tell us nothing about the ability of the institution and its faculty to inform and inspire students.

It’s the intangibles that enable success in students — regardless of whether they attend a top-ranked institution or not.

Students who are engaged and encouraged in their learning are better off. So the ability of professors to get their students excited about learning is much more important than how much research funding they have. The extent to which professors care about their students as people and are willing to act as mentors has a major bearing on the student’s potential for engagement. These are the intangibles that college rankings system could never take into account.

Of course, top-ranked institutions can offer these intangibles. My point, though, is that you can be engaged and encouraged anywhere. There are obvious flaws in the college ranking systems that we all too often rely on when making college decisions. A great college experience is not limited to the top of any ranking’s list. Success after college is not dictated by the ranking of the college you attend.

Rather than depending on any murky ranking system, search for the college that has the greatest potential to inform, inspire and challenge you personally. Your success after college depends most on your ability to find that engaging environment. Four years of engaged learning are more valuable than any ranking on its own. And it’s the engaged student, not necessarily the elite student, who has the potential to achieve the greatest success after graduation.

Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native who started a college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students. Learn more at www.ScholarScope.org.