What is the purpose of higher education?
There are a million possible answers, but according to one controversial Guardian article, It’s crystal clear: Get a (good) job. The author focusses on Ivy League-educated women, but the take-home moral rings suspiciously universal. If you get a degree and don’t use it, you might be shirking. In fact, you may even be creating a ?wasted opportunity.?
Statistics show that the more education you have, the higher your income potential will be. I’m not going to argue with that. I’m not going to dispute that you need higher learning to competently perform in some career fields. I’m especially not going to touch the working woman/stay-at-home mom debate.
Because there’s a much, much bigger issue here.
The article author is basing her whole argument on the presumption that the purpose of going to university is to succeed in the job market. I won’t necessarily fault her for that, because in a way, She’s only reflecting our modern skewed perception of higher education. Jobs now require a university degree when a technical or vocational college would make more sense. A Bachelor’s degree suddenly isn’t enough, and an increasing number of employers are expecting graduate degrees as well.
Obviously, jobs are important, and to some extent education, particularly in developing countries, is a way out of the poverty cycle. But when we overemphasize the job aspect at the expense of everything else, we lose so much more. What happened to education for enrichment? For the development of one’s own mind? For satisfaction of the quest for knowledge? For the love of learning itself? When we only think of higher learning in terms of cash flow, we miss out on its heart and soul.
Is that an elitist point of view? Centuries ago, higher education tended to be limited to the wealthier classes, if only because everyone else was busy surviving. And starving artists throughout history are testimony to the fact that non-practical study doesn’t always pay well. But we’ve taken this way too far in the opposite direction, and It’s got scary ramifications for society.
Practicality shouldn’t be the driving force behind a decision to pursue higher education. If we completely do away with the idea of a university as a place of learning and knowledge, not job skills training, we start down a slippery slope where subject areas that won’t generate big incomes?literary analysis, writing, art, music, and dance, for example?are shoved to the side in favour of more lucrative careers.
Society needs the impracticality of art; it needs the thinkers and dreamers and believers. Going Dead Poets? Society on our universities, once a wellspring of new thought and discovery?now that would be a wasted opportunity indeed.