What Is College For?: The Public Purpose of Higher Education
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At a time when higher education attendance has never felt more mandatory for career success and economic growth, the distinguished contributors to this provocative collection ask readers to consider the civic mission of higher education as equally vital to the nations well-being. Should higher education serve a greater public interest? In what ways should colleges and universities be asked to participate in public controversies? What should we expect institutions of higher education to contribute to the development of honesty and ethical judgment in the civic sphere? What should colleges do to foster greater intellectual curiosity and aesthetic appreciation in their students and communities, and why is this important for all Americans?
not in short supply. Almost every former college president writes a memoir, and studies abound of one or another aspect of the vast U.S. postsecondary system. Some works are quite technical, detailing problems of access and quality and, especially since the onset of the “Great Recession,” calling attention to a wide range of financial problems. Some are concerned with the inordinate expense of college and the implications of cost for equal access. Others simply add another chapter to what one
and higher education. During the first half of the 20th century, schools were critical to preparing children of immigrants for success and fostering a shared national identity.25 Helping immigrants gain a shared national identity is not a unifying public purpose across institutions of higher learning today. Very much in evidence at some community colleges, it is virtually absent at the more elite 4-year colleges. The Columbia experiment may demonstrate how shortsighted that is. Chicago.
never came to pass at Chicago.26 Deeply influenced by the humanist philosopher Mortimer Adler (who had participated in the general honors course that preceded the humanities core at Columbia), Hutchins saw general education as a means for introducing students to the “Great Conversations” of humanity.27 Though the Chicago practice never fully matched the vision, Hutchins famously laid out his rationale in The Higher Learning in America. Only a few colleges, such as St. John’s College in
Students are asked to walk into their classrooms, their dorms, or the dining halls and other gathering spaces where they repeatedly come together expecting that at any moment they might hear something that will change their lives, or at least spark some new insight. And they are encouraged to listen to themselves, too—to reflect on what they deeply know and truly care about, what they hear when they are able to block out noise and concentrate on what is often thought of as the inner voice. The
students in U.S. higher education matriculate in vocational fields, from business to teaching, engineering to nursing, the professional schools have become critical to the success of the university’s educational mission. Professional preparation was once thickly embedded in traditions and communities of craft knowledge. During the last half century, under the influence of the technocratic dream, the academy attempted to subsume practice within more thinly articulated systems of formal knowledge.