What is college for?

A recent Chronicle article titled “How to Assess the Real Payoff of a College Degree” explored how we determine the value of a college degree in our changing economy.  Can it be measured solely in terms of its “return on investment” based on salaries and earning potential?  What is higher education for?  And how do we measure the value of the personal and cultural development that take place during the course of a college education?

When Frances Bronet, now dean of the school of architecture at the University of Oregon,  taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, her department surveyed engineering alumni, asking what they felt they had missed in their education. Graduates who were a year out of college wished they had gotten more technical skills. Those who were five years out wanted more management skills. But alumni who were 10 to 20 years into their careers wanted more cultural literacy, “because they were traveling all over the world, working with cultures they never experienced before,” she says.

This quote really struck me, because improving cultural literacy is central to the mission of the University Scholars Program.  For over 34 years (9 of which I’ve worked here), the USP has been challenging students to think globally and encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities for cultural immersion through study abroad, service learning and USP trips.  We hope that our graduates leave NC State not just prepared for their vocations, but prepared to be active contributors and leaders in both the workplace and community.  College wouldn’t be complete without personal, intellectual and cultural development.

But that is what I think – what do you think?  I’d love to hear from our current Scholars and alumni about what you think college is for, and what you hope to get out of it?  Or what you did get out of it or didn’t and wish you had?

Allison Medlin, Associate Director, University Scholars Program

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