Thursday, October 29, 2009

Education for what?

In 1992 I spent 10 days in Norway with my professional colleague (and future wife), Betsy Barefoot. We were visiting and working with a group of small, regional engineering colleges to improve success of their first-year students. We learned that engineering was very important to the Norwegian government because engineering in Norway was what legal education is in the US: the training ground for the country’s future political leadership.

This is just one of the many occasions when I have thought about the basic question: higher education for what? And I know what the most common lay person’s answers are to that question: jobs, salary, opportunity, etc. All true. But for me, I think the most important purpose of higher education is to educate America’s future leaders.

I went to a small, liberal arts college, Marietta, a transformative place for me, that has now, what it didn’t have when I was a student, but oh how I wish it did: a bachelors degree in leadership studies. I would love to go back and do that, do college all over again. But I can’t. So what I can do is to help colleges lay the foundation for leadership education in the beginning first-year experience. You can do that too.

John N. Gardner

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