Amongst the many questions everyone has nowadays about post-secondary education, the question of what kind of impact a well-educated citizenry should have on society is rarely one that comes up. Usually the talk is focused on money and job training, and how a university if going to churn out the next link in a chain of university degree-holders, rather than on just what it is that people are going to university to learn about. Most would assume that at a university one would learn something about life, but sadly, these aren’t the days of Socrates and Plato, and so having an intelligent conversation about the merits of university education is becoming increasingly difficult.
So what kind of concept of a university are we left with? Well for the most part, universities tend to be vocational. That is, they prepare a student for a life of service in the marketplace or in a career. Schools of technology are most popular in the current environment, with computer technology and information technology being disciplines that attract a large number of students each year. The argument against such institutions – other than the fact that they are mostly capitalist-based organizations which talk about educating “numbers of students” instead of actual people – is that they train people into specialized tasks instead of giving them a broad understanding of how the world works and what their place in it should be. The ancient Greek tradition of training citizens for proper involvement in society seems to have lost supporters.
Other universities have their own separate agendas and biases, such as ones that are owned and operated by religious organizations. If you have a son or daughter that is looking to obtain a college education in the near future, you’ll want to know whether or not you are sending them to a secular institution, and if not, whether you think that the beliefs he/she will be exposed to will broaden the lines of thought instead of narrowing them. All of this is acceptable to an extent, but the more we allocate university education into pockets of knowledge or have it clouded by ideological thought, the more likely we are to have a citizenry that is not cosmopolitan. And cosmopolitan intelligence, in this day and age, seems like the only way to avoid getting into all the inter-personal troubles we tend to end up in.
You might want to think about what the concept of a university should be when you send off your child to be educated in one – especially when it is bound to cost you an arm and a leg for your troubles. If more people put effort into deciding what the ideal kind of university would be instead of thinking about what university would best equip their child with earning-power, the state of education in America might be a bit better.