Remembering the Origin Focus of a College Education

Posted on December 12, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In today’s world of career driven students (and parents), technology and research driven economy  and an increasing desire to retain and graduate students it is incredibly hard to keep in mind the original focus of higher education: the philosophical, moral and religious development of students. It is even harder to think that the original intentions can still be driving forces in our work. While I am not in the business nor want to be in the business of educating students based on religious principles, I am also hesitant to let the sun set on what I see as the overarching reasons for these principles. This concern has been particularly apparent as the ever-increasing cost of education creates an ever-increasing desire for students to simply get their degree and go to work.

I will admit up front that my feelings are inherently connected to my work in conduct and my fear of higher education turning into a business. Educating students to be better more effective and engaged citizens rings true to my deepest professional desires. I want students to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to go out and change the world (for the better) in whichever way they choose and while this may include being competent in a particular trade or obtaining a specific certification, I also think it involves gaining a more thorough understanding of the things that are important to them, the things that they value and the things they are willing to fight and sacrifice for.

Sure it’s hard to have conversations around values and it’s getting even harder as we worry about whether or not we are being sensitive to the widening diversity on our campuses. Sure it’s not as easy to teach, design lessons around or address in traditional student affairs programming. It may even be considered pointless by faculty in the more technical trades. But think of the benefits that come from a society full of people who know what their deepest values are and know how to extend those values to all areas of their life including work, home, community, etc. The politician who not only knows about but embodies collective responsibility, the social worker who lives compassionately, the researcher who shows integrity in her work and her personal life, these are the students I want to create; these are the people I want in my community and this is why I cannot turn my back on the origins of higher education.


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4 Responses to “Remembering the Origin Focus of a College Education”

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I think that the current economic climate illuminates the need for a populace whose higher education produces a capacity for greater learning, synthesis, and intellectual versatility. Check out this dynamic a play with undergraduate and graduate business students:

Kerry, I really enjoyed listening to that piece, reminded me of how much I enjoy listening to podcasts instead of reading the news. Plus it gives me eyes a break from the screen which is really nice.

The first thing that I thought was noteworthy was the fact that graduate students in investment banking were not changing their paths due to the financial problems and lack of jobs in that sector. This was attributed to the fact that changing paths would keep them in school longer and therefore lead to increasing debt and more time away from the job market. In many ways this seems congruent with many undergraduates’ fears about exploring and changing majors. However it also made me think about advising students who are considering graduate school. If a student chooses to continue his education in order to get a specific job, he should be advised that his dream job might not be available when he graduates and due to financial, time constraints, or university procedures he might not be able to change degrees midstream.

I was torn with regards to the concept of not expecting one’s dream job upon graduation. As a student affairs professional who recognizes student entitlement as a prominent issue in higher education, I support advising students on the realities associated with job searches and entry-level positions. I also think that the original focuses of higher education can be quite helpful to students who need to be flexible and well-rounded as they enter a tough job market. At the same time, I am also staring down the face of an impending job search and I’d still like to believe that I have some say in the jobs I apply for and the direction I am headed. I do not want to completely lose sight of the areas in which I feel the most passion and am the most competent and I would not advice a student to lose sight of their passions, values, and goals either. I think the key to addressing this issues is two-fold. First off, I (and others) need to define what really makes a dream job: is it the job tasks? the money? the co-workers or lack thereof? is it the values and mission of the organization? AND secondly we need to find “non-dream” jobs that provide the challenges and growth necessary in order to get “dream” jobs. Any thoughts Kerry?

Lastly, I can’t help but latch on to the following quote “Business is the most dominant social institution of our time”. I think this is a very telling statement because it seems to drive a number of the students. Business is all around us; it is an American ideal and quickly becoming a global ideal. It is no wonder that something so powerful can keep business school applications rising even as job prospects are dwindling. I’m not sure this is good, bad or somewhere in between, but I know it is something worth keeping my eye on.

I recalled this blog post yesterday as I read this GT article. It quotes Adry Clark from Career Services about the realities of the job market. I think Oregon unemployment percentages are amongst the highest in the nation.

In response to Eric’s question regarding my views of the concept of the traditional “liberal” education:

Looking back at this post, I recognize that the traditional “liberal” education which I spoke of, the one that seeks out the philosophical, moral, and religious development of students, may not have completely disappeared; it’s just that these types of development have taken on new names. To me the philosophical development came out of a need for students to be well-rounded academically when they left college. They would be able to have educated discussions with others about a variety of subjects and express their philosophies on various matters. Today I see this playing out in the core curriculum requirements at various universities. The goal remains to broaden students’ horizons and allow them to speak at short length about various issues and subjects.

As for the moral development, while that was originally reserved for learning centered around religion, I think that today’s colleges are much more focused on making sure that students leave college with certain values. At OSU, I think those values include multicultural sensitivity, critical thinking, personal integrity and accountability, leadership, and a scholarly pursuit of new knowledge. Whether I am advising a student, adjudicating a conduct hearing, mentoring a student group, or going about my role as a student, I see these values at play. I think that a great deal of student development is centered on students coming to terms with these values and therefore the traditional liberal education is still a framework for today’s liberal education.

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