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Study: People Disagree on Purpose of College

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
A study by Pew Research shows that there is significant disagreement on what college is for:
47 percent think the main purpose of college is to teach work-related skills and knowledge. But 39 percent say the main purpose of college is intellectual and personal growth. About 12 percent said the years we spend at an institute of higher learning should be devoted to both.

Life Inc. - Good Graph Friday: What's the point of college?

While 55% of those with a high school degree or less viewed college as preparation for work, only 40% of college grads and 26% of those with graduate degrees felt that way.

The big surprise to me was that only 12% fell into the "both" camp. To me, college can confer a variety of benefits - in addition to the two that Pew looked at, "earning a necessary credential" (beyond any actual skills gained), "building a network," "socialization and cultural broadening," all come to mind.

Where one falls in this belief spectrum makes a huge difference in building a college list. If you are in the "work related skills" camp, then the college brand name and quality of your fellow students won't matter much. If "intellectual exploration" is most important, than colleges that offer a rich selection of choices, engaged faculty, and a more intellectual peer group will head the list.

What other key reasons do you think Pew should have included?

Here's my starter list, maybe we'll do our own CC poll with your suggestions added:

1) Acquiring specific skills and knowledge (career related).
2) Intellectual growth and exploration.
3) Necessary credential ("min. bachelor's degree required").
4) Build a network of friends/contacts.
5) Socialization (gain experience in social situations, exposure to other cultures, etc.)
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on

Replies to: Study: People Disagree on Purpose of College

  • annasdadannasdad Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    > While 55% of those with a high school degree or less viewed college as preparation for work, only 40% of college grads and 26% of those with graduate degrees felt that way.

    That says it all. Those who have been there, done that, understand what is really important; those who haven't, don't.

    (Guess which camp I'm in <vbg>)
  • beliefbelief Registered User Posts: 579 Member
    i'm in college for the skills which happens to give me a diploma. i know my major won't apply to every one of my jobs but at least the skills will.
  • rodneyrodney Registered User Posts: 9,406 Senior Member
    as a parent, I am in the 12% category
  • VladenschlutteVladenschlutte Registered User Posts: 4,329 Senior Member
    That says it all. Those who have been there, done that, understand what is really important; those who haven't, don't.

    Or those with a proper perspective and those who are too close to see the reality of it. I can make biased interpretations to support my position too.

    I don't think many think college has only 1 sole purpose, people mostly agree that there are multiple purposes. What is the main purpose is what is in dispute. To say it's for both is a lame answer, because of 'course it's for both.

    I am unsure what the survey actually asked though. Is it what the purpose of colleges to society are? Or the purpose for which an individual goes to college? Or the purpose for which the respondent would, will, is, or did go to college?
  • rodneyrodney Registered User Posts: 9,406 Senior Member
    ^^"I am unsure what the survey actually asked though. Is it what the purpose of colleges to society are? Or the purpose for which an individual goes to college? Or the purpose for which the respondent would, will, is, or did go to college?"

    good point; I assumed (obviously incorrectly) that it was the second or third thing you wrote......
  • Person0715Person0715 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    Some people sugarcoat things and say college is not a means to an end, but rather an opportunity for intellectual growth and the experience of a lifetime. I would like to disagree; College is now a stepping stone to either employment after graduation, or graduate school. More than any other time in the past, college is now a means to an end.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 31,716 Super Moderator
    I remember my dad debating this issue with my boyfriend's father. Dad was a civil engineering professor and BF's father was a classics prof. So I heard both sides and now fall in the 12% camp. It was humorous to me that neither prof could even vaguely understand the other's position! They were worlds apart.
  • taxguytaxguy Registered User Posts: 6,625 Senior Member
    Honestly, I do have mixed feelings. College was originally started as an alternative form of apprenticeship. Instead of learning vocational skills with one master, student could have learned from many masters.Over the centuries, universities have digressed from their original purpose in that they now downplay the primary vocational element of universities to one of emphasizing adademic skills such as good reading, writing and mathematical skills and hopefully critical thinking.

    My personal opinion is to try to achieve a focus in both vocational training and in critical thinking and reading and writing, especially if you are not attending an ivy or semi ivy school. I would suggest majoring in something vocational such as accounting, engineering, hard science, applied art, acturarial, or even a needed language such as arabec etc. while also trying to take as many courses as possible that specifically improve reading and writing and critical thinking. Thus, some courses in english, philosophy, logic, political science and/or history , literature would be worthy requirements and/or electives over simply having a double major in something related.

    Certainly, what I am saying has to be tailored to the current skills of the student. If someone were a great writer and reader, they might not need as much training in these areas as someone with lessor skills in these areas. Perhaps the SAT/ACTs are good screeners for these skills.
  • AlexandreAlexandre Super Moderator Posts: 24,122 Super Moderator
    I am with the 39% who believe that college should be entirely (or almost entirely) about intellectual growth and self-discovery. Of course, in the process of learning, one enhances several transferable skills such as writing, analytical thinking, methodical approach to problem solving, team work, multi-tasking etc..., but the the primary purpose by far should be intellectual growth.
  • vincehvinceh Registered User Posts: 2,291 Senior Member
    Both. In my experience the people who are best at "doing" some thing also possess the highly developed critical thinking skills needed to understand and excel at the task they're "doing". That seems true if your a neurosurgeon or an auto mechanic.
  • 27dreams27dreams Registered User Posts: 610 Member
    As for the official study, I'd choose the "both" category.

    As for OP's list, I'll order it in which ones are most important for going to college.

    Ranking from best reason to worst reason for me personally: 1, 4, 2, 5, 3

    Of course, it depends on what career you're hoping for and what you're studying when you're in school. If you're getting a degree in an LAC (or a general undergrad college within a university), chances are, intellectual growth may be at the top of your list. If you want your undergrad studies to take place in something like an engineering or music school, you're going to go for the specific skills and knowledge. I also believe that building professional relationships/networking is a huge and underrated part of the college experience. In my opinion, being truly successful in a career is just as much about who you know as it is about what you know, and college can provide a lot of the "who" as well. I also agree with vinceh - that's why universities have GEs that you have to take no matter what your major is. A general intellectual background (especially writing) helps tremendously in almost every field.
  • 205mom205mom Registered User Posts: 237 Junior Member
    Of course it is both. But which has precedence?

    I’m the daughter of a university professor. I approached my education in an idealistic way, for my father told me to ‘never do anything just for money.’ Years later, struggling to skirt the bottom edge of the middle class, I came to see college and beyond as primarily an economic stepping stone.

    You can grow and learn without the astonishing and ever swelling costs of a formal degree. I have known so many genuine intellectuals and entrepreneurs who have done it without. But for all but the rich and almost-rich, college costs are monumental and detrimental, and so they will most likely take the hard-nosed attitude that this is FIRST about socioeconomic advancement.
  • MidwestPrideMidwestPride Registered User Posts: 26 New Member
    Due to America's economy to turn everything into a business, and setting college degrees as requirements for almost every job it is seen as a stepping stone for ones socioeconomic class. There are people who are attending college that shouldn't be there. It has become a vocational school on steroids.
  • luv2lrnluv2lrn Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    I'm new to this site, but would like to put in my two cents. I am a 71 yr. old senior citizen. I went back to school at age 61 and received my double degree in Liberal Arts and Art at age 67. Why? Being in a learning enviornment has so enriched my life. I was not going to be one sitting in a rocking chair and letting life pass me by. Yes, for you younger adults college is important and even those going to a technical school. You have your whole lives ahead of you and have to work to make a living. Someone like myself, on a fixed income, also benefits from continued education so the mind can stay alert and active. Even now I'm enrolled in a summer Philosophy class and an Art class. It is my belief that as long as we lead purposeful lives it doesn't matter whether we agree or disagree on the Purpose of College.
  • 2bornot2bivy2bornot2bivy Registered User Posts: 398 Member
    The more important question should be What is college NOT for? And this is where I think many high schoolers decide on colleges for the wrong reasons: college is NOT a 4 year party. If that is what you are looking for -- go be a GM at Club Med or something. At least you will get paid rather than incur enormous debt while partying.

    Luv2lrn -- GOOD for you -- congratulations! I think you have hit the nail on the head -- learning to lead purposeful lives (not party your brains out mindlessly).
This discussion has been closed.