The Higher Purpose of Higher Education
Perhaps you've seen the headlines, social media posts or even heard it in a conversation. Unlike the past, college today doesn't hold the same importance, cost, or appeal it once did. I know you're thinking, but we are here already. So why does what others think matter. Each quarter, we structure our schedules to meet the demands of pursuing a degree toward our individual career goals. How can the experiences and knowledge we gain from higher education be considered not worth all the hard work, sweat, and tears we put into it? There is an often-harsh criticism of liberal education in comparison to professional and vocation-based education. Which I personally find to be redundant in that no matter where you get an education it serves the same purpose. Making you the student a better person, with valuable skills, and the ability to think critically.
Let's dive a little deeper into what a liberal arts education entails to make things a little less confusing. A liberal arts education generally consists of four areas, which I'm sure each of us here at TCC has had to take several courses in pursuit of our individual degree goals. Among these are Life Sciences (Biology, Ecology, Neuroscience), Physical Science (physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology), Mathematics / Statistics, Philosophy, History, Social Sciences (anthropology, economics, human geography, psychology, sociology), and Creative Arts (fine arts, music, literature). In learning these sciences, we learn about the world around around, and develop knowledge on how we can best use those sciences for the betterment of society.
In his book, The Work of the University, Richard Levin gives the following about the purpose of higher education. “Whatever the content of the curriculum and however it may evolve, let me suggest that a liberal education is not intended to teach you what to think, but how to think.” (Richard C. Levin. 2003). I’m sure many of you have heard that from one of your professors in similar wording. Doesn't sound counterintuitive to the capitalistic and economic understanding of what students will gain from higher education at first. After all what most companies do seek from potential and current employees is the ability to think not only independently, but also creatively. It’s what makes those with degrees and substantial vocational training more appealing to those without such an education.
An article in the Journal of Higher Education examined how institutions of higher learning communicated the role colleges and universities play for both new and returning students. The following three goals were highlighted as showing higher education's holistic benefits: democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility (Saichaie, Morphew 2014). As students, it's not just enough to get an education solely for our own personal gain, but also to contribute to society as a whole by developing critical thinking skills, and learning skills that truly add value to society in any field that we wish to pursue. It is my personal goal to work in the Mental Health field. Currently, I am considering becoming a school psychologist, family therapist, or work place chaplain. In today's society (particularly in our current times), mental health issues are on the rise, and there is a growing need for more representation from African American and POC men. According to statistics, only 4% of psychologists, 2% of psychiatrists, 22% of social workers, 7% of marriage and family counselors, and 11% of professional counselors are black.
So the next time someone claims that a college degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on, or that a student of higher education is wasting valuable time and money. Remember, it's not about the paper; but rather what you do with that knowledge, and how you serve your community that truly matters.
1. Richard C. Levin. (2003). The Work of the University. Yale University Press.
2. Saichaie, K., & Morphew, C. C. (2014). What College and University Websites Reveal About the Purposes of Higher Education. The Journal of Higher Education, 85(4), 499–530. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43694814