Recent headlines from newspapers and periodicals across America portend the imminent burst of the higher education bubble while calling into question the usefulness of a postsecondary diploma in the face of crushing debt encumbering so many college graduates. Even the noted pundit and author Charles Murray advocates "getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence" in the latest issue of Cato's Letter.
Somewhere amongst this cacophony of voices, then, hangs this fundamental question: What good is college?
I recently heard a former University president claim that America, while falling farther behind other civilized societies in other areas, still remains the envy of the world when it comes to our higher educational system. This is an incontrovertible fact. As amply celebrated by Jonathan Cole in his book The Great American University, American higher education represents "one of the few sectors of the U.S. economy with a favorable international balance of trade." There is nothing in the world like the American system of postsecondary education. These remarkable institutions need to be celebrated, supported, and nurtured if our country and our economy have hope of viability in the future. There is absolutely no peer to the American research university when it comes to the countless advances in medicine and technology which continue to impact our society on a daily basis. These discoveries have raised the standard of living for ALL of us.
The beauty, too, of our educational system lies in the fact that there are countless points of entry for those interested in pursuing whatever they like. From welding to Welsh history, theoretical physics to theatrical design, criminal justice to computer-aided design -- there are opportunities to gain proficiency in disciplines as varied and vast as those students enrolled in public and private institutions across our country. As a product of a liberal arts background, I have benefitted enormously from the training I received in reasoning and logic, reading and comprehension, writing and communication.
I readily recognize that not everyone has the luxury, time, or means of pursuing higher education in the traditional sense of matriculating to a residential campus as a full-time student with the primary focus being the completion of a degree within a prescribed amount of time.
But for those fortunate to have access to those irreplaceable college years, I am a strident supporter of all the lessons one can learn outside the classroom. For many of our students at Southern Utah University, the experience of coming to our campus marks the first time away from home and the safe cocoon of home, family, and friends. Forced to live on their own, our students are placed in situations where they must get along with others, learn to manage both their time and money, and sink or swim on their own merits at a much higher level from what they experienced in high school.
All of these lessons, and more, cannot be learned in a more effective and powerful environment than in the formative years at a college or university.
Like Dr. Murray, I am an ardent backer of competency and believe that educational reforms geared toward more efficient outcomes must be implemented. But I also firmly believe in the words of the poet, A.E. Housman, who observed: "All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use."