What’s The Purpose Of College?

from Forbes

Many Americans have begun to ask whether college is worth it. And who’s to blame them? With college tuition rising at astronomical levels, it’s reasonable to think prospective consumers will do a more careful “return on investment” calculation. But instead of asking whether it’s worth it, we’d be better off asking a different question: what’s the purpose of college? Without nailing this answer, it’s impossible to discern whether it will be or was worth it. Even more importantly, being clear about the purpose of college also helps us make the most of it.

The problem is that our national narrative about “college” has created a decidedly false dichotomy between the two primarily professed purposes of college. There is the camp that says college is about preparing a person for work – to help them get a good or better job. In fact, this is by far the most commonly cited reason for why Americans value higher education– to get a good job. The other camp says college is about more broadly preparing a person for success in life – to be an engaged and enlightened citizen capable of thinking critically and communicating clearly, ultimately able to thrive in their well-being. Make no mistake, many of us see the purpose of college as both a job-driven and a life-driven purpose. But our dialogue is horribly stuck in the muck of an either/or debate on these two fronts.

It’s time to end the either/or debate and embrace the reality that college’s purpose is both. College is about both preparing people for a job (and helping them advance their careers and earnings) and to thrive in their overall lives. Findings from a Gallup-Bates College study released today give us convincing evidence of the importance of both/and – as well as point us toward an improved framework for thinking about the purpose of college. What if the purpose of college is finding one’s own, individual purpose? And what if achieving this is critically linked to finding purposeful work? Here are the study highlights:

More here.

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60 Responses to What’s The Purpose Of College?

  1. Halli Schwartz October 17, 2019 at 12:16 pm #

    Where are you going to college? What are you studying? What are your plans for after you graduate? These are just some of the seemingly endless questions that I, as well as many college students receive on almost a daily basis. The real question one could ask is the title of the article, “What’s The Purpose of College?” The article discusses an issue that has been discussed a lot lately, is college worth it. There are two sides to the issue, those who believe college is worth it, and those who do not. The writer of the article discusses that the main discussed purposes of a college education are to get a job or to gain some sort of success by knowledge gained in a collegiate environment. However, the author believes that the purpose of college is both of these things. One needs both knowledge and job skills, and college can allow for this to occur for someone. Graduates of college agree with this, and value that they have gained skills for the workplace and other knowledge that can be useful in real life. So what is the purpose of college? It is to allow students to gain purposeful knowledge for the workplace and for life in general. When I was reading this article, a lot of it resonated with me. When starting college, I really believed that I was going to get a good job. When looking at schools, I made sure to choose one that I knew would get me the connections and knowledge to obtain a great job after graduation. I didn’t really believe that anything else that I learned could assist me in my future in any way. Through my studies, however, I realized that I could have both. I have learnt so much that has helped me in my career path. I have made so many connections that I know will assist me in my job search in the future. I have also gained knowledge in other things that I know I will use not only in my career but in my life in general. I think that college was important for me and my career path, but I also think that the purpose of college depends on what you make of it. For me, it has been career oriented because of the steps I have taken for it to be that way. For others, it shapes them as a person first, and then guides them in their future. Overall, I think college is important for the right person, and no matter what the purpose, it helps a person learn and grow as a worker and as a person in general.

  2. Victoria Balka October 17, 2019 at 2:14 pm #

    Being a college student, I often find myself questioning what the purpose of college is and what is the purpose of taking these classes that have nothing to do with what I want to do in life. I know the feeling of not knowing what you want to do with your life and if you have a life purpose is questioned by a lot of different college students. While most students will say they are in college in order to get a good job, there should be more said since the cost of a college education may not be near the worth of getting a job out of high school and working your way up. Another purpose of college is to expand the student’s knowledge and make them prepared to work and face challenges in the real world. Often in the classes not related to the college students major, they are there to help the student understand how to handle situations they may face in the workplace that do not relate to their major. Colleges often make money by telling students that they need degrees and to take these classes in order to be successful in life. The idea that students must go to college is forced on them in high school by people telling them that they will not be successful unless they get a college degree.
    I believe that in order for a student to determine if college is really worth it for them, they need to calculate the cost and how much their wanted job is expected to pay them. If they find they can get a job that will make then fulfilled in life without needing to get a college degree, maybe the student should choose to skip college and go right into the workforce instead. I also feel for students to fully get the full advantage of college they must go into school knowing what they want to do with their lives and that the job will make them feel fulfilled in their lives. While college exists to help students succeed in their professional lives, it is also to help them succeed in their lives outside of work and that is extremely important to understand when debating if college is worth it or not.

  3. Samuel Kihuguru October 17, 2019 at 6:34 pm #

    Brandon Busteed tells a convincing narrative of how we should view our investment in college – not as a division between obtaining good work and engaging someone to be an enlightened citizen capable of critical thinking and communicating clearly, but a basket encompassing both fruits. The distinction he makes is that graduates value both purpose and work – and in fact, find the most purpose in and from work. My opinion on the subject matter has been tiered more towards the idea that college contributes to the value of education and exposure to a variety of skills and resources that inform our human development; as a source for good work, it fails in its challenging the purpose of several 1-2 year vocational schools geared towards full employment and fulfilling work in a trade that could be earned at an incredible fraction of the latter’s cost. Busteed tells us that we still have a lot of room for improvement in helping graduates achieve purposeful work, and that we must find purposeful work in order to thrive. But I find that this evaluation of purposeful work through developing relationships with teachers and obtaining internships during college, only qualifies university with a small student-teacher ratio. Students from Rutgers University, for example, would find themselves in a space where they must break the barrier of a large student pool to meet and develop teacher relations compared to Seton Hall University. While these factors of fulfillment could be debated, can we ascribe the looming costs of college debt that will follow hundreds of thousands of Americans into their retirement age to the service of a good student-teacher relationship? I still believe that in pursuing a college degree – yes, you have the qualification for better work – but more than that, you have the exposure to skills, resources and texts through a liberal arts curriculum that teaches you to make more informed decisions as a responsible citizen, that vocational schools would be hard-pressed to do. And yes, many Americans would argue that is a valuable product for the costs incurred thereafter.

  4. Sarah I October 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm #

    What is the purpose of college and is it worth it? These are common questions high school seniors and college students ask themselves quite frequently. Is it worth the money, time, energy, and stress? There is a stigma that everyone must go to college after high school. Students are pressured because they think the only way to be successful in life is to have a college degree. The article in Forbes makes the point that society believes there are two purposes to college, to prepare students for work and to prepare students for success in life. I personally think that statement is too broad. College prepares students for work in their respective fields and helps them set a path to success. Higher education is not the only way to success, but it does help set the path. Students are unaware of the various other opportunities available to them after high school. Trade workers and military personnel can live successful lives, just like those who go to college. Students are unaware of these opportunities because no one talks about them. How many times has an ironworker, or an electrician came and spoke to a class of high school students? Probably never. We need to make these opportunities more available and let the students decide the best route for themselves. The pressure put on students to attend college is unreasonable and we should allow them to make the decision and not push the answer on them.
    Another point the article states is, “only 38% of graduates strongly agree they have discovered work that has a satisfying purpose,” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/brandonbusteed/2019/04/10/whats-the-purpose-of-college/amp/?__twitter_impression=true). This means that 62% of college graduates have not found work that satisfies them. Is it worth $100,000 in debt to not find work that satisfies you? All students go to college expecting to graduate and work a job they love with good pay, but that isn’t always the case. College doesn’t prepare students to live an unsatisfying life nor do they expect it. So, what is the purpose of college and is it worth it? I think the answer to that will vary by person and we need to let students answer that on their own, without pressure. If we allow them to choose their path in life, I think that people would be more likely to discover that their work has a satisfying purpose and they will genuinely enjoy doing it for a long time.

  5. Maeve Lersch October 23, 2019 at 12:09 pm #

    This article was an interesting read for me personally because it is very relevant in my life today. In the article, they talk about how before people decide whether college is worth the money or not, they need to consider the purpose of college. I think this is an extremely important question to consider since it is such a huge investment that affects someone’s entire life, and I think people today are getting stuck in going through the motions of what you think you are supposed to do.
    I always knew I was going to go to college; it was never really a question in my life personally or from where I grew up. The question that did concern me mainly was how I was going to figure out how my interests could lead to purposeful work because I think that is a big part of the purpose of college. In the article they mention how a major American value of college is to find better work, but I think the main purpose more importantly is to be able to use what you learn in college to find work that gives you purpose which in the article they said increases people’s overall well being by 10%. The fact that purposeful work improves someone’s overall wellbeing is incredibly important because it goes beyond money or superficial things; it goes much further, making it even more critical.
    One of the main talking points in this article is that many people think the purpose of college is not both job training or life training, but it is important to change this thinking to both. I think both purposes go hand in hand because becoming more enlightened and educated in life through college I believe will help people realize professions that are more enjoyable.
    In the article they give the statistic that 86% of college students believe it is important to have a sense of purpose from your work, but only 38% of graduates believe they achieved this. I think it is crazy that we go through all of this work in college to be able to gain purpose from work, but more than half do not actually achieve that. This statistic makes me reflect on my own journey thus far because I do not want to be in the 62% of graduates that do not feel a sense of purpose from their work. I think that this stat shows how important it is to get real world experience before graduating college because I don’t think many people actually know exactly what will give them purpose from just taking classes in school. I think having an internship or co-op experience gives people the chance to experiment with what they enjoy to really learn about themselves and what will give them purpose.

  6. Steven Evans October 23, 2019 at 6:25 pm #

    I think it’s a good thing that Americans are asking themselves what the point of college is. It seems that most young Americans see college as a necessity if you want to earn a livable paycheck. Therefore, most public high schools do not entertain the idea of not graduating and going to a college or university. Sometimes other options are not discussed, such as trades and military service. Where will all of the electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and other service workers come from if all of America’s youth are trying for college degrees? Some of the degrees students are now graduating with are from fields that seem to have no concept of the working world. Who will hire a recent college grad with a degree in Star Trek? (Yup – it’s a real thing.)
    That is not to say that college is not valuable for ANYONE. I think a lot of young adults who are on a successful path learn and grow substantially from the college experience. I just wish more young adults knew that there are other options. Not everyone is made for an occupation that would require a college degree. The world will still need other types of workers, and those people would be good at their skill even if they do not attend college.

  7. Steven Evans October 23, 2019 at 6:26 pm #

    I think it’s a good thing that Americans are asking themselves what the point of college is. It seems that most young Americans see college as a necessity if you want to earn a livable paycheck. Therefore, most public high schools do not entertain the idea of not graduating and going to a college or university. Sometimes other options are not discussed, such as trades and military service. Where will all of the electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and other service workers come from if all of America’s youth are trying for college degrees? Some of the degrees students are now graduating with are from fields that seem to have no concept of the working world. Who will hire a recent college grad with a degree in Star Trek? (Yup – it’s a real thing.) https://www.toptenz.net/to-10-useless-college-classes-degrees.php
    That is not to say that college is not valuable for ANYONE. I think a lot of young adults who are on a successful path learn and grow substantially from the college experience. I just wish more young adults knew that there are other options. Not everyone is made for an occupation that would require a college degree. The world will still need other types of workers, and those people would be good at their skill even if they do not attend college.

  8. Samantha Russo October 25, 2019 at 10:56 am #

    This conversation about is college really worth it was something I just went through with my little sister this past year. She graduated valedictorian in her class with the dreams of going into mechanical engineering but her biggest question was always why do I need college? And isn’t it a waste of my time when I can get a hands on experience elsewhere? Since we started her college search in her junior year, she would constantly be against the entire experience, telling us how it was a waste of money for her to go to school and how we would be better off saving our money on her tuition. This fight lasted over a full year while my parents had to constantly tell her why it was important to get a degree, especially for more than just getting a job in the future. She knew that to one day build robots, she would have to get her degree first but she never saw any point in college besides that. After fighting her senior year, she finally decided to go to Stevens Institute to get her degree in mechanical engineering but her fight is something I’ve felt during my four years at school.
    When I first started here, I was taking religion classes and classes that had nothing to do with my future career path and it made it hard to see the point in what I was studying. I often wondered if I was spending my tuition money wisely and if I should really be here or figuring out another career path. It only took four years but I managed to find the purpose of college, which is expanding my knowledge, especially on subjects I’m unfamiliar with. I’m a political science student in a business law and a criminal justice class this semester so I can expand my horizons in what I’m learning and be able to get something out of my $42k school. It’s hard your freshman year to feel like you aren’t wasting a lot of money trying to figure out your future. I started as a business major and within a day had to switch because I knew it wasn’t for me. I wasted time applying to business schools as a senior in high school because that’s what I thought I wanted to do with my life. It takes some getting used to but coming to college and learning as much as you possibly can is something that makes the huge financial debt school puts you in worth it.

  9. Jacqueline P November 5, 2019 at 7:59 pm #

    The question is “is college worth it?” A lot of people would argue that in order to have a successful life, you need to have a successful career others say that college is a waste of time and you can earn a living without it. For example, others go to trade schools or into the military. Trade schools are where if not all then most mechanics get their education. My older sister graduated from a trade school for cosmetology and now works full time in a salon and also decided to go to college. Everyone’s different and college doesn’t work for everyone. However, I’d say that college is worth it if you’re actually into it and willing to put in the time and work. The cost of college also drives people away. It’s a big investment and not everyone can afford it. Even college students can’t even afford. With the assistance of scholarships, grants, and loans, this is the only way that most of us can afford it. “If we want to answer the question of whether college is worth it, we need to start by asking “what is the purpose of college?” Reflecting on that may very well be the key to unlocking the next era of higher education, economic and well-being prosperity for our nation.” “What’s The Purpose of College” I couldn’t agree with this more. Figuring out the purpose of college will set others up in the future to succeed.

    I didn’t think college was worth it at first. After taking two years off after high school to work I realized that I wasn’t going to end up as nearly as happy as my friends who are getting job opportunities, co- ops, and internships to further themselves in the future. It was hard going back. Graduating from community college and ending up at a university where my family are alumni is a blessing in disguise. I’ve had so many doors open for me and so many opportunities that I didn’t know was possible. From the ups and downs, tears and no tears I don’t regret going back to school.

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