What is the purpose of a “higher”education in the 21st century?

A UK perspective, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/its-time-rethink-what-social-mobility-means, by Graeme Atherton: head of AccessHE and director of the National Education Opportunities Network. His new book, The Success Paradox: why we need a holistic theory of social mobility, is published by Polity Press.

He writes:
“Concentrating solely on economic progression is pushing social mobility into a corner, and may be doing as much harm as good. Social mobility is in essence about what you think success is. The big issues that are coming to dominate the early 21st century are not compatible with a view of success that is cast purely in economic terms, which is what the present view of social mobility is doing so much to cultivate…”

Yes and no. Although written, obviously, with the UK’s current policy debates in mind, it made me think a bit about its application in the U.S.

I’ve written widely on the issue of linking international education experiences – especially study abroad- with student career development; and I’ve focused on research findings which show a high correlation between such experiences and graduate employability.

Of course, I’ve never meant to infer or imply that students must, in every case, only choose to go abroad solely with this instrumental outcome in mind and in the forefront of their decision-making…But, I do believe that campuses which place a high value on internationalization of their curriculum and co-curriculum (i.e. off campus international programs) – in fact, who purposefully integrate these two facets of the undergraduate experience – have an obligation to provide students with the resources needed to understand the value-added of such experiences as they transition to the workforce. This also means campus policy-makers need to support their international education and career service offices with the staff resources they need to properly advise students before they leave campus, while they are abroad and upon their return.

Students need all the tools and skills made possible through their undergraduate years to successfully enter the workforce (domestically or internationally). And while I strongly believe in the value of a liberal arts degree, many many students – especially those with limited family resources – have little time to lose when they graduate. They need to get a job; they need to earn an income to pay back the debt they’ve incurred.

I see nothing wrong -nor anything morally repugnent – if higher educstion leaders acknowledge their part in creating a campus culture which assists students to successfully navigate their way out of the classroom. The days of yore – whether in North America or Europe – when getting a degree, in and of itself, was the goal, are long long gone. Never to return (well, perhaps that will never change for any nation’s upper classes).

A vision of “higher” education in this century must include acceptance of the university or college’s role as an agent of social & economic mobility for all students – regardless of class or race or country of birth.

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