Value Commission Q&A: Sahar Mohammadzadeh

September 16, 2019
We sat down with Value Commission members to learn more about what drives their involvement in this work. Check out our conversation with Sahar Mohammadzadeh. 

When people talk about the value of education after high school, what comes to mind?

I have had the unique opportunity and privilege of being born and raised in Kentucky, a state incredibly diverse in the education provided to its students. While Lexington, my hometown, hosted one of the state’s largest four-year universities, it was not uncommon to speak with many of my peers outside the city about their excitement to pursue technical schools, trade programs, and community college.

Regardless of our geography, socioeconomic background, race, or religion, we all pursue a postsecondary education in hopes that we are gaining a return on our investment, that in some ways our studies will have tangible measures to attack our community’s most daunting challenges. The value attached to higher education depends on the capacity to use what we learn to be agents for change, regardless of the type of institution.

Why is it so important to define the value of education after high school now?

A postsecondary education has such a radically different definition for each student. For some, college means the traditional image of a four-year institution. However, our view of education after high school should and must be expanded to include the voices of technical schools, trade programs, extension schools, veterans, and working parents.

Too often, the desirability of a postsecondary education is conflated with a shallow and narrow definition of success, and many are pushed down pathways that may not be the most financially feasible or be most aligned individual interests, goals, and community needs. It is absolutely critical to communicate an all-encompassing definition for the value in order to best serve and invest in the students least heard from policymakers, colleges and universities, and higher education organizations.

What is important for students and families to understand when it comes to value?

One of the biggest hindrances to students and families when considering education after high school is the cost: and rightfully so with rising tuition and stories of insurmountable student debt.  Getting to college is for many an unfathomable financial burden, especially when getting through college and reaping that return on investment is not necessarily a given.

The conversations that we are having about education after high school with our families, around the dinner table, or in parent-teacher conferences is in urgent need of expansion. We must start talking about the bigger picture life after graduation: the power that a degree has for economic mobility, for racial equity, and for civic vitality.

 What do you hope the Postsecondary Value Commission will accomplish?

If anything, the goal of the commission is to redefine and tackle the informational obstacles that many students and families experience during the postsecondary transition process: affordability, feasibility, debt. And instead, we want to turn those barriers right on their head, redefining them as opportunities for why one should consider a continued education.

Every second that we waste not reaching and investing in students who would greatly benefit from increased access to postsecondary education is an unfathomable loss for civic engagement and community development. We must act immediately to represent students who for far too long have dismissed the idea of going to college because our outdated definitions of value have historically marginalized them.


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