— Written by John C. Morgan ’63, instructor of philosophy and ethics, this column was published in the Reading Eagle’s Business Weekly and the Albright Reporter.
What’s college for?
Here are the three most common answers I hear from college students in my classes:
- To get a job.
- To improve my skills or knowledge.
- I don’t know.
These answers are true up to a point. College should be to help you get a job or improve your chances of getting a promotion. College should increase your skills or knowledge. And many don’t know why they are going to college at all, and I was one of these in my first year as an undergraduate at Albright College. In truth, I’m glad I wasn’t so certain about my career goals when like so many others I’ve changed careers at least three times in my life and my liberal arts major was broad enough to permit such changes.
I believe that college is a place to learn who you are, what you value, and how you want to invest your time for the rest of your life. It’s one of the few times in my life when I have had time to do so with others on a regular basis.
When I begin teaching a new class these days, I explain to students that they are the textbooks in which they are writing their books of life, and this chapter in college is one of the few times in their lives they will have the opportunity to spend time reflecting on who they are and what they want to be and do in the world.
I believe the purpose of a college education is to help people think more clearly and to live more deeply. These are ancient goals from the early schools of philosophy in Greece. Aristotle’s Lyceum was the heart of liberal arts education. Be careful with the word “liberal” because it often is limited to politics. One of the earlier meanings of the word “liberal” was “generous,” and a liberal arts education was intended not only to make people more tolerant but more capable of being good citizens. After all, the Greek city state was the model for democracies, and a citizenry able to think for themselves the key to success.
We live in times when many colleges are facing rising costs, dwindling enrollments, and a troublesome environment in which some question whether having a college education is worth the time and effort. I could cite the many studies which show that having a college degree dramatically increases your chances of making more money (over a lifetime college graduates earn nearly $1 million more than high school grads according to Georgetown University). But I won’t make this argument alone because it reduces learning to dollar signs.
Most people want to earn more. But having more money is not the only reason to pursue higher education. The measure of a person is not based solely on how much money they make, but how deeply they live and contribute to the common good. Many employers say they value the ability to think critically, listen to others and solve problems.
Aristotle suggested that curiosity is the beginning of learning. And college can offer an environment to encourage curiosity. Aristotle also noted that a purposeful life is essential to what it means to be a full human being. He calls it arete, which essentially means becoming everything you can be as a full human being.
Carey Manzolillo, director of communications at Albright College, suggests that people don’t realize how much we grow by learning new ideas. She notes that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65% of future jobs have not even been created yet, and a study completed last year predicted that 80% of jobs that will exist in 2025 have not been created yet.
“To help our students and graduates prepare for those jobs, likely with technology that hasn’t been invented yet, we have to teach our students to learn how to learn. We have to shine a light on their curiosity so that they are prepared and welcome a world that is constantly changing, and perhaps lead that evolution.”