Does College Kill Purpose?

As the new high school graduates are flocking online to confirm their enrolment I cannot help but to not think that these indecisive majors could be our future’s best hope.

After having spent almost 10 years in public higher education I do feel more than qualified to report back that the new role as a job factory that all colleges and universities seem to have become a part of, they could be killing the spirit of the modern college student and found them searching for a meaning to why they are there. Not only this, employers need to be ready or the workforces’ deficit and potential high turnover this may cause.

In an attempt to react to the recession induced cynicism directed at the cost of higher education, colleges have moulded themselves to become less measured by the global, thinking citizens that they produce and more about the graduation rates, job placement statistics and average starting salaries that they can use in their marketing to seduce students in their admissions literature.

Live by statistics and you will be defined by them, and the new definition of universities and colleges may come at the expense of nurturing and uniting students and provide them with no actual meaning.

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Searching for meaning and a job

The human search for meaning doesn’t change with economic conditions or ratings of a college and reports have repeatedly shown that people live for more than a job that pays the bills.

Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, refers in his book to a study undertaken in the early 1990s by the John Hopkins University which asked 7,984 students who attended 48 different colleges around the world what they considered to be extremely important to them, when they were considering a career.

Just 16% of students cited making a lot of money being of major importance whereas 78% said that finding the purpose and meaning of life was the most important factor to them. There was a similar study taken in 2011, there were 10,000 graduates in the workforce that were asked what they thought was critical in a “good” job. Interesting work, work that gave them a sense accomplishment and being able to add something to other people’s lives were far more important to them than pay or job security.

Why do students go to college?

At a recent conference first year students in their transition to their second year were offered two sessions called, “Finding Authentic Purpose for You,” and almost every student at both sessions had not chosen a major and there was one trait that was common amongst them all, and this was they were all in complete anguish.

This anguish was due to them having no idea what they wanted to actually do with their lives. When a student was asked why they attended college they had no answer and when asked why this was such a difficult question to answer, they explained that they had never been asked this question, or questioned why they were at college.

People or Jobs?

Universities and colleges need to get tough and make the decision whether they are in the business of developing people or jobs. Institutions that answer people need to pay close attention to developing the students’ sense of purpose and providing them with the space and freedom needed.

Prior to students seeing their lecture halls for the first time, students undergo rigorous exams, are provided with a four-year plan, given plenty of advice and direction and finally told to begin preparing for job fairs. However, there is a real problem with this and this is that no one knows the student, their story, goals, dreams or aspirations so how can a college know what the student needs without first knowing why they are there in the first place?

When students have to answer “Why?” questions their brain becomes activated and they have to consider their situation and all of the variables that are involved in their future. They need to specify a definite course of action for them independent of what anyone else may tell them. This used to be called critical thinking, and this could be just what the workforce need, and also why over 70 years of research on the meaning and meaningfulness of work has reported that people with purpose and meaning in their work are more engaged, satisfied and committed.

It is not enough for parents to be the only ones asking their children “Why?” it is high time that colleges and universities do the same, as this is the one way that they can guarantee that they are nurturing the talent of the future in the right way to join any workforce.