What is college for?

How would you answer the question “what is college for?” I think most of us would agree that the goal of a college education is to provide individuals with a satisfying job at a reasonable salary. But is that all? According to Andrew Delbanco, director of American Studies at Columbia University, it isn’t. In Delbanco’s recent book, “College, What it Was, Is, and Should Be,” published in March of 2012, he argues that college should do much more. In addition to providing economic success for individuals and, by extension, the nation, college should helps students learn how to contribute to our democracy, which depends on an “educated citizenry.” Furthermore, college should provide students with experiences that enhance the joy of living.

In his introduction, Delbanco suggests that college should help students “develop certain qualities of mind and heart requisite for reflective citizenship” which include the following:

“a skeptical discontent with the present, informed by a sense of the past”
“the ability to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena”
“appreciation for the natural world, enhanced by knowledge of arts and sciences”
“the ability to imagine experiences from experiences other than one’s own” and
“a sense of ethical responsibility”

Delbanco suggests that these qualities cannot be developed by study within a single discipline. His compelling arguments follow from a fascinating analysis of the history of colleges and universities and a comparison of the past with the present.

What do you think of Delbanco’s ideas? Do you think Penn State is successful at helping students develop these “qualities of mind and heart?” If not, how might we do a better job?

1 thought on “What is college for?

  1. WILLIAM LEONARD GOFFE

    I wonder if there might be some sort of instrument that we might give students as they progress though Penn State to see if they’re achieving these? In part, I’m thinking of the Wabash Study, http://www.liberalarts.wabash.edu/wabash-study-2010-overview/ , that looked at students as they went through college. It looked at different issues, but as best I know, such studies are rare. That said, it seems to me that if you really want to answer such questions, you need data.

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