Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

One education, many purposes

“What is the purpose of a college education: is it about developing occupational skills or acquiring knowledge?”

My questioner was a journalist who has covered higher education in the United States for more than two decades. And no, I don’t think he genuinely believed the answer had to be one or the other. Rather, his question reflected the false choice that is so prevalent in public discourse about undergraduate education.

President Barack Obama, among others, champions the idea that every U.S. citizen needs a post-secondary education to prosper and to help keep America strong. In this view, colleges and universities must organize the curriculum around marketable job skills sought by employers. In the current economic climate, in which joblessness continues at painfully high rates, this idea has an obvious attraction.

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