01/20/2014 05:25 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2014

"Going Away" to College Still Matters

There is a lot of discussion today about the value of higher education, what it should look like, and what it costs. Online learning and MOOCs are hot topics. These are all valid areas of discussion, and it's important to recognize that college does look different to students of various ages, backgrounds and geographic locations. And yes, college in this country is too expensive -- something that must change, while also providing the facilities, faculty, and curriculum that students need to succeed after graduation. In the midst of all this talk, however, it's important to focus on the young people -- our next generation of leaders. What are the benefits of college to these young people, who are just starting to learn about themselves?

I grow concerned that conversations about college today largely don't consider the bigger picture of what college has to offer students and our society. Yes, it's about getting jobs after graduation. But there's more to it. We are more than what we "do" for work. We are part of a larger society; democracy -- as individuals we impact each other in many ways, and should take responsibility for our place in the world. For this reason, I believe that personal growth and self-awareness are important college outcomes. A high-touch, residential college experience helps still-developing young students to gain these important skills.

College absolutely includes rigorous academics, dedication to studies, and learning experiences in the real world for students. But what's perhaps equally important, is that college provides young students with the opportunity to learn about what they are capable of; what they can achieve on their own. When this opportunity is offered, it means that the college must live up to its end of the deal. It must have the resources that residential students need to work through academic challenges, adjust to life away from familiar settings, find avenues for social engagement, and live among a community of new people, who are also going through the same growing pains.

Online learning has its place, and is valuable to many, diverse learners. We are a global society -- online learning brings together students in fascinating ways.

But as the discussion about MOOCs continues, let's remember that learning isn't limited to subject knowledge. Higher education is critical to the development of the minds and hearts of the next generation -- and it prepares them to meet society's challenges by thinking critically, acting creatively, and serving the greater good.