Purpose of education?

“A good liberal arts curriculum puts students in touch not just with ways of interpreting the world around us but also with the fact that the world can be ‘interpreted’ in the first place. Ultimately, it tries to help us understand our place in it and our relationships with each other.” WD

Do you ever wonder about real purpose of education? Is there more value to college education than grabbing some free degree with highest earning potential?

What’s your idea of a good college education?

There is a difference between a liberal arts education & a preprofessional curriculum.

There is. This quote is only a conversation starter. Question of the day is about role and value of an undergrad education in a society and how you interpret it.

An undergrad education is only as valuable as the skills attained. I don’t believe it has any value whatsoever to how the world is interpreted, and think it is elitist to suggest such.

I know many people that never went to college that are smarter, wiser, and more respectable than some PhD’s I know. College just isn’t for everyone, and that is ok.

Experience is the best teacher.

Before we started looking for colleges for S19, I had a very limited view of what his undergrad education could look like. And then we found LACs. Our niece is at UIUC and her classes are huge. Has honestly said she doesn’t need to go to do well. The only exception is her calc class where she cannot understand the professor or the TA so she tries to figure it out with friends or with the digital textbook that has an “extra help” section. That is not getting an education.

Some people wonder why we would send S19 to such a small school. We came to the conclusion that the best undergrad education (for him) would be at a place where there would be no question that he would know his professors and be challenged in small classrooms by his peers. Not all of his classes will be setting him up for a job. We want him to learn how to think critically and to become a strong writer. He will major in math but still have plenty of space to take all kinds of thought provoking classes. Ideally an undergrad education involves a lot of discussion about a wide range of topics. At no other time in his life will he have this chance. We feel like one can separate the two - education and job placement. He can “get a liberal art education” and still make sure he gets internships during the summers and sets himself up for being employed come graduation.

We really look at these four years and what he will gain as a person during that time. It’s not all about the outcome. It doesn’t matter if he “ends up in the same spot” as a business major from a big university. Maybe he will. But we think his undergrad experience will be richer at a small school and will serve him well long term.

The value depends on the student. There are students who know what they want to do, have little interest in spending time contemplating the world and can’t wait to get hands on experience in their field. Those kids gravitate to schools like Northeastern and Drexel. Then there are the kids who can’t wait to live the life of the mind. They want to experience, philosophy, art history, literature and think deeply about the universe and all its implications. These are the kids who fall in love with Bard, Columbia and Chicago. There is no correct answer. Thankfully, our country offers a huge variety of academic options.

Well, specifically, I have always though about college (education) as a time for growth. Would you want a high school grad as your doctor or your life long financial adviser. I’ve seen the “old” 6 year med grads…no thanks… K-12 generally is the time for parental imprinting (many now go to boarding schools with the positives and negatives of that 4 year early start). In our state, many do a 2 year mission then go to college from home. The point is- most need time on their own to develop before they commit to their life’s passion. There is a major difference in being smart enough (and locked in because of what your parents have imprinted) to get through and being committed to your own goals. A good school can help you get there. I wonder how many never have that awakening. Go to school, get some skills and then trudge through life…sad.

@RW1 It is indeed very sad.


That’s exactly the kind of utilitarian approach to education which is endangering the status of the Liberal Arts across this entire country. Education is about a whole lot more than acquiring some finite set of skills that might net you a sizable income in the “real” world. It’s about developing the capacity to be a critical, reflective citizen who understands both the culture in which one is embedded and the complex structures that together constitute the modern world. It’s about learning how to both to think for oneself and to think broad-mindedly. It’s about, in short, learning how to become an autonomous individual, who has the cognitive faculties necessary to reflect on human life and the world rather than merely accept it as given. If you think that’s “elitist”, or should for some reason be confined to the “upper” classes, then I think that’s tremendously unfair to all of the individuals of humble origins who have become remarkable thinkers, writers, and visionaries.

My college education taught me how to think - how to think critically, how to think through my own assumptions, how to separate those assumptions from what was actually proven or even provable. College took my high school brain, shook it up and reorganized it. It showed me how little I actually knew and taught me how to improve myself and my store of knowledge. It taught me how to teach myself new and difficult topics and it also taught me how to listen to people who knew more than I did on the same. None of those lessons produced any utilitarian skills … but those lessons enabled me to build a solid career. I could not have possibly learned what I did in college outside of an educational environment.

I have to say, I was leery of my daughter going to an LAC, since I was an engineering major at UT. But I have been SO impressed with how much D has improved in her writing and speaking skills. She can express herself so well! She may have a hard time making a career in photography, but she is going to do fine.

I think the best part of college is being with other people who are trying to grow and explore. It forces you to grow and explore as well, and the coursework is mainly just to give you a sense of structure through the journey. This is why I believe that online learning will never replace colleges because you lose out on the most important aspect of college, which is everything besides the coursework.

An undergrad degree shows that you can stick with something, even the parts you don’t like. It is also an opportunity for teens to mature in a transitional environment, and (at least for my kids at their LAC type college) get some strong mentoring in their chosen field of study.

“There are students who know what they want to do, have little interest in spending time contemplating the world and can’t wait to get hands on experience in their field.”

There are also students who can contemplate the world, do alot of reading and thinking in high school and outside of the classroom, and still have opportunities to expand on that at large research universities - even ones with a more pre-professional focus like Northeastern (thanks to the 1/3 of grad requirements in various liberal arts subjects). My kid was really looking forward to being able to choose the subjects that really interest him. Some colleges are better at that than others. If he had to slog through 2 years of specific mandatory core courses, he would have hated it. And this is a kid who does well in all subjects - STEM and humanities. But there is no way he’d want to take more bio/chem/physics instead of being able to choose a topic he enjoyed more.

IMO, a college education is about overall growth - intellectual, personal, emotional…and the list goes on.

I think the past challenging economy and increased difficulty in getting a good job has made many rethink what they want out of college as a financial investment. Now many choose very carefully to make sure they go to college to translate into employment that pays well. Many, many “kids” graduated from college after spending a great deal of money only to discover they were not able to secure jobs at all let alone good paying jobs. People now want tangible rewards.

What exists today is that there is more financial pressure for students from non-high-SES backgrounds to focus on the pre-professional preparation when choosing college, major, and courses, due to the need to immediately find a job at graduation to pay off student loans (and possibly help out the family who stretched the budget to pay for the student’s college, even after financial aid). In contrast, those from high SES backgrounds are more likely to have a family safety net to allow for a potentially extended job search at graduation or take an initially lower paying job or unpaid internship for better career development, and may have more family connections that can help them land a desirable job.

as it says its not what you know, but who you know !!!

I like the Good Will Hunting quote: