Despite what most Missourians might think, compared to many of the students here at ETSU, your public school system does a pretty darn good job educating the students that end up at Mizzou.
I can’t say that that is necessarily true of Tennessee. We have many students that should not be in college in college. This is not to say that they are stupid. They are NOT stupid. (Here's a list that shows Missouri public schools at #19 and Tennessee's at #28.)
Many students here are smart, and ready and willing to learn, but many of them are vastly unprepared when they walk into my freshman Intro class. I am not saying that all Mizzou students were well prepared either, but there is a definitive difference.
(As an aside, one of things during my parents’ divorce was that my mom refused to allow my brothers and I to go to school in the South. She wanted us to get good Jersey public school education. Even today, the Jersey school system rank very high. On the previous list, Jersey is ranked #1 in the nation. The proof is in the pudding – all three of the Herrmann Brothers have advanced degrees. Here's Jim. Here's Fred. Here's me.)
One of those differences between the Mizzou student body and the ETSU student body is most certainly cultural. At Mizzou, the students are more school-oriented and more career-oriented than here. This area of Appalachia is very, very, very family-oriented, moreso than any place else I’ve ever lived. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
I will have a student taking one of my classes. I will get the following email (you know, if I get an email at all):
“I will not be in class today. My sister – who works a minimum wage job – cannot find a babysitter. Therefore, I will be watching my nephew during class time.”
“I have to take my father to the doctor’s today.”
“My cousins are coming in from out of town so I won’t be in class.”
I never heard things like this when I taught at Mizzou. Here, it happens rather consistently.
There is an emphasis on family and kinship here that is just different. Students graduate from ETSU, and they often stay in the area. The dilemma of course is that the Tri-Cities area simply does not have a lot of very high skill, high paying positions, even at the entry level. In fact, job growth here is terrible, but we keep building shopping centers with what I call "Low-No" positions:
Low Pay-No Benefits.
You can read about this weird problem: more stores, fewer jobs here. By the way, TN has the highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the nation. You can read about that here.
This isn’t NYC. Hell, it isn't even Knoxville. (Or even CoMO!) This has a negative recursive correlation. Students get a BA, get a retail job, and then say their BA wasn’t worth the money. And many times the reason they don't leave the area is due to their kinship ties.
Not that there’s anything wrong with kinship ties, but you can't make a career on kinship. (Unless your parents own one hell of a business themselves.) There is a certain fear of moving and of change here that I have never encountered before. Like I said, it’s a cultural thing.
Of course this isn't always true. Some of my former students have left and are on their way to doing great things. Jenni Bartell is one, now working at the FDIC. Kallam McKay is another, enjoying her first winter in NYC. (HA!) Zach Bonar – not yet a graduate – is in DC doing an internship. Young people with no fear, making lives for themselves. These are the exceptions to the rule.
I like to tell my upper classmen to leave this area. Just go. Even just for a few years. Go get some experience. Go work for a PR company in Atlanta. Go hit NYC and work in publishing. Hop on over to Nashville and work in HR.
And then if you want, come back and start your own business.
Because you’ll successfully kick the asses of the people who stayed here.