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Understanding the purpose of higher education: An analysis of the economic and social benefits for completing a college degree


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Higher education worldwide is facing unprecedented challenges - the dramatic rise of for-profit institutions, rapidly increasing expectations about what services colleges and universities should provide, and a complex society that demands college graduates with even more skills and capacities. To understand how higher education can effectively address these challenges, this paper investigates the public and private purpose of higher education and what it means for higher education's future. Utilizing Critical Interpretive Synthesis (CIS) and signaling theory, this research reviews the changing meanings of 'public' and 'private' in higher education from the perspective of (1) education providers and (2) undergraduate students. A comprehensive search of the literature selected 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and twenty-five books published between 2000 and 2016. Nine synthetic constructs of the goals were found and while there was some agreement between institutions and students on the economic and social benefits of higher education, the review was characterized by a significant misalignment. The findings suggest that student expectations for a college degree tends to be very instrumental and personal, while higher education purpose of undergraduate education tend towards highly ideal life-and society-changing consequences. This paper offers eight recommendations for policymakers to consider that address the growing misalignment gap between education providers and undergraduate students. The ultimate goal is to develop renovation or repurposing strategy across competing imperatives and to outline success measures to critically define, measure, and evaluate the achievement of specific goals and outcomes in hopes of resolving potential skills mismatch in a world of massive cataclysmic change.
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Roy Y. Chan
Indiana University, Bloomington
Higher education worldwide is facing unprecedented challenges—the dramatic rise of for-
profit institutions, rapidly increasing expectations about what services colleges and
universities should provide, and a complex society that demands college graduates with
even more skills and capacities. To understand how higher education can effectively
address these challenges, this paper investigates the public and private purpose of higher
education and what it means for higher education’s future. Utilizing Critical Interpretive
Synthesis (CIS) and signaling theory, this research reviews the changing meanings of
‘public’ and ‘private’ in higher education from the perspective of (1) education providers
and (2) undergraduate students. A comprehensive search of the literature selected 60 peer-
reviewed journal articles and twenty-five books published between 2000 and 2016. Nine
synthetic constructs of the goals were found and while there was some agreement between
institutions and students on the economic and social benefits of higher education, the
review was characterized by a significant misalignment. The findings suggest that student
expectations for a college degree tends to be very instrumental and personal, while higher
education purpose of undergraduate education tend towards highly ideal life- and society-
changing consequences. This paper offers eight recommendations for policymakers to
consider that address the growing misalignment gap between education providers and
undergraduate students. The ultimate goal is to develop renovation or repurposing strategy
across competing imperatives and to outline success measures to critically define, measure,
and evaluate the achievement of specific goals and outcomes in hopes of resolving
potential skills mismatch in a world of massive cataclysmic change.
Over the last half-century, new pressures have challenged the traditional purpose and
civic mission of higher education (The National Task Force, 2012). On one hand, one would
argue that the purpose of higher education tends is to acquire new knowledge and to prepare one
for the workforce. On the other hand, one would also argue that institutions of higher education
should be aiming for more ideal contributions to the commonwealth society. That conundrum
has posed persistent dilemmas about the public purpose and function of higher education in the
21st century (Abowitz, 2008; Brighouse & Mcpherson, 2015; Dungy, 2012; Levine, 2014;
Shapiro, 2005).
To enumerate, higher education in the United States and abroad is facing unprecedented
challenges on a wide number of issues including support for financial aid, rapidly increasing
tuition rates, diminishing appropriations, modified governance relationships, and a complex and
global society that demands college graduates to acquire more skills and capacities (Bastedo,
Altbach, & Gumport, 2016; Goodchild, Jonsen, Limerick, & Longanecker, 2014). Notably, both
public and private universities are in a marketplace shift where they need to constantly prove
their value and worth in contemporary society (Bok, 2003; Suspitsyna, 2012). Historically,
institutions of higher education exist to educate students for lives of public service, to advance
knowledge through research, and to develop leaders for various areas of the public service
(American Council on Education, 1949). Today’s universities, however, are required to prepare
graduates with the knowledge, skills, and ethical responsibility to meet the future workforce
needs of society and to participate fully in the new global economy (Spellings Commission,
2006). These profound changes, in turn, have shifted higher education worldwide from once a
public good to now a private benefit (Filippakou & Williams, 2014; Pusser, 2006), whereby
colleges and universities have begun to operate as a corporate industry with predominant
economic goals and market-oriented values (Gumport, 2000; Kerr, 1994; Thompson, 2014),
which has reduced higher education to a transactional process rather than maintaining its
transformative potential (Bylsma, 2015). This dual role has resulted in the rise of the new
industrial model of privatization, commercialization, and corporatization and has altered higher
education’s traditional mission, and has also increased the mission differentiation in higher
education systems in preparing all graduates for democratic participation, active citizenship, and
personal development (Kezar, 2004; Lambert, 2014). In other words, colleges and universities
are not only under pressure to promote college access, affordability, and completion in today’s
uncertain future, but also enhance individuals’ core competencies and dispositions (i.e., “non-
economic” benefits), such as: the ability to think logically, the capacity to challenge the status
quo, and the desire to develop sophisticated values for entry into the highly competitive global
labor market (Brennan, Durazii, & Sene, 2013; Selingo, 2016; Tilak, 2008; Washburn, 2005).
Today’s labor market requires highly skilled personnel at all levels to deal with rapid
industrialization in rapidly changing environments (Ramley, 2014b). To meet current societal
needs, higher education institutions must redefine and reinvent college curriculum, pedagogy,
and assessment policies to ensure that all students have the desired attributes and competencies
to contribute to the global economy and engage effectively in democracy (Fein, 2014; Kirst &
Stevens, 2015). Statistically speaking, Hart Research Associates (2015) concluded that 91
percent of employers think that critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving abilities
are more important than a potential employee’s undergraduate major. At the same time, 87
percent of employers give hiring preference to college graduates who have completed a senior
project. While 97 percent of good jobs created since 2010 have gone to college graduates
(Carnevale, Jayasundera, & Gulish, 2015), more than half of employers still report having
difficulty finding qualified candidates for job openings, and over one-third say that recent
graduates are very unprepared for their job searches (Carnevale, Jayasundera, & Repnikov, 2014;
Carnevale, Hanson, & Gulish, 2013; Fischer, 2014; McKinsey & Company, 2015). Accordingly,
new research that investigates the public and personal or private purpose of higher education is
needed to understand the extent that students develop the discipline-specific competencies and
higher-level learning outcomes that are needed to live responsibly in an increasingly diverse
democracy and in an interconnected global community (Roksa & Arum, 2015).
Just as Saichaie and Morphew’s (2014) and Watty’s (2006) study helped us appreciate
the tension between how academics and government policies view higher education, an analysis
that compares and contrasts the personal or private purpose(s) of higher education may help
educators better understand the current disconnect between higher education institutions and
college graduates (McClung, 2013; World Bank, 2012). If research institutions and students do
not have aligned goals and aims for completing a bachelor’s degree, then there is likely to be
disappointment on both sides. On one hand, academics and staff may be disappointed if students
do not go beyond the minimum requirements in their engagement with learning tasks. On the
other hand, students may balk at learning outcomes that have little connection with vocations.
Consequently, new empirical research that makes a thorough comparison between education
providers and college students on the economic and social benefits of completing higher
education may “add-value” for institutions seeking to position themselves for success (Watson,
This research gap stands in stark contrast to the large number of recent studies, which
have examined the significant “economic benefits” (i.e., societal/direct benefits to citizens) for
completing a college degree through the perspective of human capital theory (public and private
or personal benefits) and new growth theory as noted within several education policy reports by
Columbia University’s Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment
(CAPSEE) and Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (Avery &
Turner, 2012; McArthur, 2011; Psacharapoulos & Patrinos, 2004). For instance, Carnevale and
Rose (2015) found that college-educated workers with a bachelor’s degree now produce more
than half of the nation’s annual economic value. Similarly, Benson, Esteva, and Levy (2013)
found that a bachelor’s degree program from California’s higher education system still remains a
good investment for individuals and society. Likewise, Hout (2012) argued that individuals who
complete higher education are twice as likely to earn more money, live healthier lives, and
contribute to the socio-economic and well-being of society. Consequently, completing a
bachelor’s degree is “good for the economic health of the nation and that going to college is
good for the economic competitiveness of society” (Delbanco, 2012, p. 25). Given the well-
established financial and career benefits of a bachelor’s degree, it is plausible to suggest that a
motivator for entry into and completion of undergraduate education is access to such economic
and social benefits (e.g., reduced crime rates, increased charitable giving, higher salaries and
work benefits, improved health, advanced knowledge) (Zaback, Carlson, & Crellin, 2012). While
not an inappropriate motivation to examine the economic benefits of a college as a result of the
changing global economy, research that focuses solely on the economic instrumentality of higher
education may not produce the best learning outcomes and competencies across the full range of
college majors and institutions (Wolf, 2003).
For example, Arum and Roksa (2011) claimed that undergraduate education make little
difference in students’ ability to synthesize new knowledge and put complex ideas in writing.
They argued that 40 percent of the 32,000 students surveyed made no gains in their writing,
complex reasoning, or critical-thinking skills, and 36 percent failed to show any improvement
over the four years of college (Arum & Roksa, 2014; Council for Aid to Education, 2014). The
authors Arum and Roksa (2011)) concluded that “drifting through college without a clear sense
of purpose is readily apparent for undergraduates” (Liu, Bridgeman, & Adler, 2012, p. 353).
Similarly, past research into the learning effects of motivation has suggested that students with
strongly instrumental motives (e.g., I’m doing this so I can make a lot of money) or who use
‘minimax’ strategies (i.e., getting the greatest return for the least effort) tend not to achieve as
well as those with ‘deep’ (e.g., learning for its own sake) learning intentions (Entwistle &
Peterson, 2004; Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 1996). Likewise, Huber and Kuncel (2015)
analyzed 71 research reports published over the past 48 years, and concluded that over the 48-
year period, overall gains in critical thinking have decreased despite the fact that students have
learned critical-thinking skills in college. This may be the result of teachers’ inabilities or
disinterest in teaching in creative and innovative ways that are effective in the classroom, or it
may be due to other personal and political matters (Bok, 2008). Although many colleges and
universities are beginning to re-assess a broader range of instruments and approaches to
document students learning progress (AAU, 2013), information about how the data are being
used significantly lags behind in the worldwide landscape of higher education today (Kuh et al.,
2014). Therefore, examining and comparing the economic and social benefits for completing a
college degree is highly relevant for higher education policymakers, university planners and
institutional researchers seeking to improve student learning outcomes and skill development for
long-term economic growth and transformation in modern economies (Kuh, et. al., 2015; Roksa
& Arum, 2015).
Nonetheless, this paper reviews and synthesizes the economic and social benefits (e.g.,
knowledge, core competences, skills, capabilities, dispositions) for completing a college degree
from the perspective of education providers and undergraduate students in the field of higher
education administration. Specifically, through the use of literature, this research examines the
tension between economic and social goals as a major source of concern for higher education
study. In addition, this paper examines our current assumptions about what a college degree is
and discusses planning areas that are necessary to develop renovation/repurposing strategy
across competing imperatives: create jobs, develop skills, cultivate citizens, and disseminate
knowledge. As colleges and universities are expected to train hundreds of thousands skilled
graduates for roles in community and social development, new formal research that addresses the
growing skills mismatch between education providers and students as well as employers and
recent graduates is relevant to guide the discussions of policymakers and senior leaders on issues
pertaining to student success and career readiness. The ultimate goal of this paper is to challenge
universities and university stakeholders at the international, national, institutional, departmental,
and local levels to think more boldly about policy design and to answer three commonly asked
questions in the field of higher education: 1) what does the current literature suggest to be the
goals and purposes of higher education, 2) how well-aligned are institutional and student goals
for completing a college degree, and 3) in what ways do learners and colleges today fulfill higher
education ambitions for advanced skills, general competencies, and high ideals by the time
students graduate from a university.
It is important to note that this paper’s author does not take a strong stance on whether
either perspective is more socially just, economically sound, and/or beneficial to individuals or
society in order to avoid any biases or misperceptions during the review process. Furthermore,
this paper does not attempt to compare the literature’s primary arguments in respect of individual
arguments or viewpoints. In addition, this paper selects literature that is pertinent to colleges and
universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand due to the higher
level of private investment in higher education by private donors and philanthropic organizations
compared to those in developing and transitional economies. However, given the global nature of
the higher education industry, it is expected that this literature analysis be applicable and
pertinent beyond Western countries and to all types of universities (e.g., public, private, research,
liberal, for-profit) and university stakeholders worldwide.
This section reviews and synthesizes key literature between education provider and
undergraduate student perspectives on the public and private purpose of higher education and
identifies the current importance, function, and nature for completing a college degree.
Specifically, the first part of this literature review explore colleges’ and universities’ perspectives
on the aims and goals of a college degree and what it means for higher education’s future. The
second part of this literature review examines undergraduate students’ perspectives on the
purpose and function of a college degree and outlines success measures of specific goals and
outcomes for postsecondary education. The ultimate goal of this literature review is to develop a
renovation/repurposing strategy across competing imperatives (e.g., create jobs, develop skills,
cultivate citizens, disseminate knowledge) in hopes of resolving potential skills mismatch
between college students and education providers, and education providers and employers.
Education Providers’ Perspectives on the Economic/Social Benefits of a College Degree
It has long been advocated that higher education institutions teach undergraduate students
a wide range of discipline-specific competencies and general skills to live responsible,
productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world (Haigh & Clifford, 2011; Rossi,
2014). Today, society expects that degree-granting institutions will ensure that all college
students develop discipline-specific competences (e.g., knowledge, attribute, responsibility) as
well as generic skills (e.g., communication, written, oral, tolerance, compassion) and dispositions
(e.g., attitudes, beliefs, curiosity) as they work toward a college degree. These skills, often
known as the “non-economic” or social benefits of higher education, include communication
skills, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, social skills, as well as intrapersonal skills
(Menges & Austin, 2001). While the vast majority of interventions to promote non-cognitive
skills happen in college setting, many postsecondary education institutions often do not have
clear definitions of what those skills are or which non-cognitive factors (i.e., socio-emotional and
affective skills) are most relevant to career and workforce readiness (Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, 2014). Furthermore, current research suggests that higher education is not just about
acquiring discipline-specific competencies or applied skills, creating the impression that colleges
and employers want different things (Craig, 2015). Consequently, there is notable confusion
between higher education providers and the employment sectors regarding skills development
that are essential to academic and career development success (U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Foundation, 2015).
The Purpose of Higher Education Institutions: Past and Present
The public and private purpose of higher education institutions is not new. Historically,
when the Puritans founded Harvard College in 1636, the purpose of higher education was to
produce “a learned clergy and a lettered people” (Rudolph, 1962, p. 6) and to develop learners to
work towards improving the conditions of society at large (Dewey, 1916). Specifically, John
Dewey in the 19th century emphasized higher education’s role in sustaining our way of life when
he proclaimed, “Democracy must be born anew each generation and education is its midwife
(Dewey, 2008, p. 139). Notably, he believed that knowledge would equip ordinary citizens to
share in a common life, helping themselves as well as society (Ramley, 2014a). Like Dewey, the
Oxford scholar Cardinal Newman (1976) advocated for higher education as a place for
cultivating universal knowledge rather than developing vocational training and research.
Specifically, he argued that college graduates should complete courses in classics and philosophy
because these courses had the ability to “strengthen, refine, and enrich the intellectual powers.”
This was highly evident throughout the Colonial period (1636-1787), where U.S. colonial and
antebellum colleges were established to serve two primary purposes: 1) settler’s determination to
live a life different from the government and 2) Protestantism and Anglicanism desire to separate
from Catholicism (Brubacher & Rudy, 2008).
To enumerate, Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale were all founded by Congregationalists to
prepare men for ministers and public servants. Like Harvard, the College of William and Mary
was established to prepare clergymen for civil service in the Anglican Church (Brubacher &
Rudy, 2008, p. 19). Specifically, “most colleges in this country had only one aim – to educate an
elite group of young men for the learned professions and positions of leadership in society”
(Bok, 2013, p. 28). These Colonial institutions, in turn, would provide upward social mobility for
young men to integrate religion with society as college would serve not only as “sanctuaries” for
free expression (Guttmann, 1987, p.174) but also serve a democratic purpose by providing
“knowledge for the sake of serving society and knowledge for the sake of serving social
demands” (Guttmann, 1987, p. 188). In other words, institutions of higher education served the
public good by producing highly educated leaders and informed citizens to expend their skills, to
broaden their horizons, and to prepare themselves for the rigors of 21st century citizenship
(Benson & Boyd, 2015). While John Dewey and Cardinal Newman view higher education as a
place that promotes nation building and socialization, the public and personal benefits of higher
education often extend beyond individuals to society and from the economic to social realms.
Today, a large number of studies exist worldwide that have shown that individuals who
obtain a higher education degree acquire both economic and social benefits, as evident in the
Spellings Commission (2006) report by the U.S. Department of Education and Adult Literacy
and Life Skills Survey, undertaken by the OECD (2010). More specifically, the Spellings
Commission (2006) prompted state and federal policymakers to seek more information about the
return of public investment in higher education. Such emphasis has led to increased attention
given to internal, state-level, and federal-level accountability. With federal and state funding now
heavily tied to educational ‘results’, institutions are beginning to develop “common, voluntary
standards of accountability and public disclosure” to highlight their ability to produce graduates
that are able to fully participate in the new global economy (Keller, 2012, p. 372). That is,
educational attainment and completion are positively related to productivity, labor market
outcomes, and economic growth. College graduates who hold a college degree obtain higher
average earnings, are more likely to be employed, and are less likely to experience poverty than
individuals without a higher education degree. At the same time, individuals who complete a
higher education program acquire significant personal/social benefits, including: higher cognitive
skills, the ability to concentrate on job-related tasks, and the desire to give back and participate in
community service activities (Baum & Payea, 2013).
To help readers understand the difference between the economic and social benefits of
higher education, Table I was developed to categorize themes and topics surrounding the public
and private (personal) benefits of higher education. Table I is based on this paper’s literature
review, which includes a selection of articles and books.
Table I. Economic and Social Benefits for Completing a College Degree
As shown in Table I, higher education can enhance the quality of life for individuals and
countries. Specifically, individuals with a college degree are more likely to have higher standards
of living and better well-being, and be pro-active and civically engaged in their communities.
While previously conducted research has concluded that individuals with a college degree are
more equipped to think clearly and articulate their thoughts in any profession, studies have also
concluded that individuals who complete higher education degrees acquire non-cognitive skills
that have a positive impact on labor market outcomes (Hackman, Stixrud, & Urzua, 2006).
Specifically, individuals who complete college will not only obtain the economic benefits as per
outlined in Table I, but also social (the “non-economic”) benefits of higher education, which is
rarely, if ever, discussed in policymaking circles. Hence, colleges and universities pursue
multiple goals and these institutions recruit students and academics as human capital, and offer
classroom instruction and student services that alter the mission of higher education (Heaney,
Competing Aims and Goals of Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges
Since the Colonial period, colleges and universities have pursued multiple, competing
goals, such as: democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility, without a single
unifying purpose or mission statement (Labaree, 1997). Readings (1996) argued that institutions
of higher education are “no longer clear what the place of the University is within society, nor
what the exact nature of society is…” (p. 2). Specifically, the long-standing disconnect between
the crucial goals and aims institutions set forth in general education often stand in the way of
achieving meaningful pathways to student success (AAC&U, 2015b). As a result, many
universities and university stakeholders in the 21st century are under intense pressure by parents,
students and alumni to explain the public and private purpose of higher education and to what
extent a college degree is “worth it” in the era of globalizing knowledge for greater worldliness
(Kennedy, 2014).
To enumerate, the Gallup-Purdue University (2015) study of college graduates found that
half of approximately 30,000 college alumni “strongly agree” that their education was worth the
price. Specifically, they found that while 50 percent of baby boomers agree that their college
education was worth it, less than 38 percent of alumni who graduated between 2006 and 2015
strongly agree with the statement. That is, recent college graduates, or the millennial generation
(defined as 18-35 age), are beginning to see less value in pursuing and completing a college
degree than previous generations, despite the economic and social benefits of higher education as
noted in Table I. While the demand for pursing a college degree will continue to increase both in
the United States and across the world, access to postsecondary education – often the symbol of
success and the ticket to the middle class – is now viewed as the new high school diploma that
produces highly skilled workers or ‘citizens of the world’ in the 21st century. These modern-day
misconceptions have led students, scholars, and parents to unequivocally question the
relationship between higher education and work (Brennan, Kogan, & Teichler, 1995; Stokes,
2015), the rapidly rising cost of tuition (Archibald & Feldman, 2014; Doyle, 2012), the presence
of undocumented immigrant students (Pérez, 2014), and the value of a college degree (Abel &
Deitz, 2014; Lin, 2016; McCann & Laitinen, 2014).
Defining the “Non-Economic” Benefits of Higher Education
Higher education worldwide is facing unprecedented challenges - the dramatic rise of for-
profit institutions, rapidly increasing expectations about the services provided, and a complex
and global society that demands diverse skills and capacities from its college graduates
(Docherty, 2011). These profound challenges have prompted government officials,
policymakers, and senior officials to question not just the economic benefits of higher education,
but the social / non-economic benefits as well.
Generally, it has been suggested that higher education should provide several non-
economic benefits, including nation building and socialization. For instance, Lagemann and
Lewis (2012) argued that the purpose for attending postsecondary education has less to do with
the pursuit of economic or employment benefits and much more about preparing young adults
with generic skills and civic values and virtues. More specifically, the authors believe that a
college degree should provide students with new knowledge, competencies, and applied skills,
such as problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and creativity, which are essential for
success in the global economy. The authors concluded that the social / private benefits of higher
education are tied to the future of citizenship, social responsibility, and global engagement. Like
Lagemann and Lewis, Kiziltepe (2010) argued that the “non-economic” benefits of higher
education is for college graduates to acquire five dispositional outcomes: (a) interpersonal
competence, (b) multi-cultural understanding, (c) skills in problem identification and problem
solving, (d) a sense of purpose, and (e) the confidence to act in ways that make a difference.
Similarly, The AAC&U (2015b) outlined three factors that all graduates should develop at the
completion of a college degree: (a) to be informed by knowledge about the natural and social
worlds, (b) to be empowered through the mastery of intellectual and practical skills, and (c) to be
responsible for their personal actions and civic values. Likewise, Nussbaum (2012) suggested
that the social or private benefits of postsecondary education is to provide students with the
knowledge, skills and dispositions like “the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend
local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and, finally, the ability
to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person” (p. 7). In other words, the top
attributes of a successful college graduate are leadership, the ability to work on a team,
communication, and problem solving skills, as outlined by the National Association of Colleges
and Employers (NACE, 2014).
Historically, during the U.S. Revolutionary Era of 1776-1820, the purpose and function
of higher education was to not only create and disseminate new knowledge for the common
good, but to also develop students’ well-being and their emotional, interpersonal, ethical, and
intellectual abilities (Maxwell, 2007; McHenry, 2007; Palmer, Zajonic, Scribner, & Nepo, 2010).
These non-economic or social benefits largely remain the same today, where higher education
seeks to prepare individuals for longer, fuller, and more productive lives (Astin, 1997; Perry,
1968). For example, Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) summarized five areas pertaining to the
social effects of postsecondary education: (a) learning and cognitive changes, (b) psychosocial
changes, (d) attitudes and values, (e) moral reasoning, and (f) career and economic impacts.
Similarly, Palmer et al. (2012) stressed that undergraduate education “address issues that are
central to the life of young adults concerning purpose, core values, and direction in life” (p. 15).
Equally important, Polanyi (1974) argued that higher education’s purpose is to prepare
individuals to discover “who they are, to search for a larger purpose for their lives, and to leave
college as better human beings” (p. 47). In a similar fashion, Chickering and Gamson’s (1987)
Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education outlines the trends for effective
learning: (1) student-faculty contact, (2) cooperation among students, (3) active learning, (4)
prompt feedback, (5) time on task, (6) communication of high expectations, and (7) respect of
diverse talents and ways of learning. That is, higher education has “typically had among its
primary goals not only the development of the individual intellect, but also the fostering of a
sense of one’s moral and civic responsibility” (Pascarella, Ethington, & Smart, 1988, p. 412).
While the limited amount of college learning that was reported by Arum and Roksa (2011) may
be an underestimation of students’ true college learning, the results of their study warn that
institutions of higher education may not be the place for developing students’ generic
competencies, and do not favor meaning, purpose, authenticity, and/or spirituality.
To overcome the limitation of student learning, several philanthropic organizations and
advocacy groups across the world have developed innovative frameworks to ensure that its
college graduates acquire the non-economic benefits of higher education. For instance, the
Lumina Foundation developed the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) (2014) to define what
exactly a college student should learn, understand, and know at the completion of a college
degree. Specifically, the DQP identified five general domains of knowledge and generic skills
that higher education institutions should focus on within undergraduate education: (1) civic
learning, (2) applied learning, (3) intellectual skills, (4) integrative knowledge, and (5)
specialized knowledge. Like the DQP, the “Tuning” project in Europe seeks to implement
institutional degree profiles across the EU that will help universities highlight the
“distinctiveness” of their degree program; distinguish between foreign and local academic
degrees; facilitate student mobility; and differentiate the expectations of its higher education
system against the growing force of privatization (Vught & Huisman, 2013). Comparatively, the
Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs),
displayed by the AAC&U (2015a), outlined four segments, to be obtained by students, that are
focused on responsible citizenship and global economic benefits: (1) knowledge of human
cultures and the physical and natural world, (2) intellectual and practical skills, (3) personal and
social responsibility, and (4) integrative and applied learning. AAC&U President Carol Geary
Schneider once stated in a symposium, “The purpose is broad knowledge that enables students to
navigate the world they inherit, to develop powers of the mind to make reasoned judgments and
cultivate a sense of ethical responsibility, and to connect those goals to the world (AAC&U,
2015b, p. 1). One could argue that the social or private benefits of undergraduate education is to
teach students skills in civic courage, moral judgment, critical thinking, and global awareness in
order to prepare learners for a democratic, civilized, and global society (Hansen, 2011).
While personal and social development is often advocated in liberal education, a more
balanced view of the purpose of higher education can be seen in other arguments (Brennan,
Durazii, & Sene 2013; Selingo, 2013). For example, Bennet and Wilezol (2013) noted that a
bachelor’s degree exists “to educate and equip the mind and the soul to recognize what is right
and good in life, to prepare a student for the demands of a modern labour market, and to offer
specialized learning in various fields and occupations” (p. XVI). Similarly, Sullivan and Rossin
(2008) believe that higher education should prepare individuals “for lives of significance and
responsibility” (p. xvi) and to give students complex knowledge, capacity in skilful practices,
and a commitment to the purposes espoused by their community (Sullivan, 2011). Because
institutions of higher education “supply the knowledge and ideas that create new industries,
protect us from disease, preserve and enrich our culture, and inform us about our history, our
environment, our society, and ourselves” (Bok, 2013, p. 1), colleges and universities must help
“students prepare for work in ways that contribute to both their overall wellbeing and to a better
and more just society for all” (McArthur, 2011, p. 738). That is, the value for completing a
college degree is to not only to acquire advanced knowledge and discipline-specific competence,
but to also create wealth for a global economy (Rowland, 2002).
Accordingly, the purpose and function of higher education is to: (a) serve a democratic-
centered civic engagement based on addressing pressing real-world problems, and (b) develop a
fully rounded, intellectually sophisticated, and caring person (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2012;
Thompson, 2014). The most widely valued general or discipline-specific competencies are:
critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal skills, logical and independent thought,
communication and information management skills, intellectual curiosity, creativity, ethical
awareness, integrity, and tolerance (Bath, Smith, Stein, & Swann, 2004). While the dominant
voices about the goals and aims of postsecondary education are focused on individual and social
development, there is also a call for higher education to serve socio-economic needs for the
betterment of all people (Featherman, 2014; Johansson & Felten, 2014; Kahlenberg, 2011).
Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) concluded that two-thirds consider it “essential” or “very
important” that their college experience enhances their cognitive, social, and affective
Undergraduate Students’ Perspectives on the Non-Economic Benefits of College Degree
Today’s traditional-age college students enter higher education under the weight of
tremendous social and economic pressures (Mettler, 2014). Notably, the income inequality and
unemployment gap between having, or not having a bachelor degree has been increasing the last
several years, and has prompted students to view higher education as a site for future
employment (Greenstone, Harris, Li, Looney, Patashnik, 2012; Pew Charitable Trust, 2012). For
instance, the Lumina Foundation and the Gallup Poll (2014) concluded that 95 percent of
American students believe that the purpose of higher education is to “get a good job.” Similarly,
Astin et al. (2011) claimed that first-year students expect their institutions to play an instrumental
role in preparing them for employment (94%) and graduate / advanced education (81%). That is,
college students in the 21st century often view postsecondary education as a place to acquire both
economic and social benefits, such as enhanced careers and greater earning potential, as well as
knowledge and expertise in a disciplinary or professional area similar to what is shown in Table
I. Although students cited “getting a good job” as their top reason for attending college,
approximately 50 percent of recent college graduates today are unemployed or underemployed
(Selingo, 2016). At the same time, Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the
Workforce forecasts that 5 million positions go unfilled by 2020 (Carnevale, Hanson, & Gulish,
The Purpose of Undergraduate Education: Historical Issues and Debates
Historically, the Yale Report of 1828 emphasized that the predominant reason a student
pursues undergraduate education is to develop “the discipline and furniture of the mind” and to
“lay the foundation of a superior education” (p.7) that would discipline the mind. American
founding father Thomas Jefferson (1779) stated in A Bill for the More General Diffusion of
Knowledge: “Those persons whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue should be
rendered by liberal education worthy to receive and able to guard the sacred deposit of the
rights.” Today, however, there is substantial evidence that claims student expectations or goals
have changed, and that students are more motivated by personal or social development concerns
of higher education as well as by instrumental and materialistic ambitions (Blumenstyk, 2015;
Hacker & Driefus, 2011). For example, Barber, Donnelly, and Rizvi (2013) noted that the
primary reason a student pursues a college degree is to have the “college experience” (i.e.,
meeting students, being inspired by new ideas and/or leading academics, opportunity to socialize
or to lead an organization, and make friends). Similarly, Levine and Dean (2012) claimed that
students’ purposes for attending an undergraduate institution are: (1) to feel secure, (2) to be
autonomous grown-ups, (3) to seek intimacy, and (4) to live in an internet world. Likewise, Bui
(2002) highlighted eleven reasons undergraduate students pursue a bachelor’s degree: (1) their
friends were going to college, (2) their parents expected them to go to college, (3) their high
school teachers/counselor persuaded them to go, (4) they wanted a college degree to achieve
their career goals, (5) they wanted a better income with a college degree, (6) they liked to learn,
(7) they wanted to provide a better life for their own children, (8) they wanted to gain their
independence, (9) they wanted to acquire skills to function effectively in society, (10) they
wanted to get out of their parents' neighborhood, and (11) they did not want to work immediately
after high school. Comparatively, Astin (1993) concluded that students’ ability to make more
money and get a good job are two of most important factors in the decision to pursue a higher
education degree. In other words, numerous past studies have suggested that students view
higher education as a place to acquire a job and to be well-off financially, while others view it as
an opportunity to obtain new knowledge and expertise in a disciplinary or professional area
(Henderson-King & Smith, 2006; McMahaon & Oketch, 2013).
To help readers understand the purpose of undergraduate education from the perspective
of freshman students, Figure I was developed. Figure 1 illustrates students’ rationales for
attending a higher education institution, and is based on the Cooperative Institutional Research
Program’s (CIRP) annual “Freshman Survey”, which was published between 1967 and 2013 by
the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Figure I: Percentage of Freshman Students “Being Very Well off Financially” is essential (Public
vs. Private Universities)
Specifically, in 1967, only 42 percent of freshman students attending U.S. public
universities and 44 percent of freshman students attending U.S. private universities believed that
money was essential. However, in 2013, that percentage increased dramatically to 82 percent and
80 percent, respectively, as shown in Figure I. That is, after analyzing five decades of published
data on UCLA’s CIRP annual Freshman Survey between 1967 and 2013, there was a 40 percent
increase in undergraduates expecting institutions of higher education to help them become “very
well off financially.” In addition, Figure I illustrates that an increasing number of first-year
undergraduate students want and expect universities to help them become “very well off
financially,” and that being “very well off financially” is the most important reason why they
choose to attend a higher education institution. In addition, UCLA’s CIRP survey indicated that
nearly 83 percent went to college “to learn more about things that interest me” and that 73
percent said they pursued a college degree “to gain a general education and appreciation of
ideas” (Egan, Lozano, Hurtado, & Case, 2013). While some students pursue higher education
based on extrinsic factors (e.g., to attend graduate school, to secure and/or to prepare for a future
career), Figure I is a clear indicator that freshman students are highly motivated by intrinsic or
personal reasons (e.g., to find a job, to experience self-growth, to meet new friends, to develop a
meaningful philosophy of life). This, in other words, suggests that an increasing number of
undergraduate students expect that a college degree will help them acquire a job at the
completion of their higher education program. Furthermore, there is a growing expectation or
normative assumption that institutions of higher education should assist them with their job
prospects and their long-term career development goal of becoming “very well off financially”.
Thus, it is no surprise that in the 2016 CIRP survey, 60% of freshman students (an all-time high)
said that landing a good job was a “very important” consideration in choosing a school.
This longitudinal result, produced by UCLA’s CIRP survey, is not surprising since
numerous past studies have found that undergraduate students view higher education as a means
to increase their annual salary and job opportunities, to accelerate their career paths, and to
enhance their marketability in the global economy (McArthur, 2011). For example, Kennett,
Reed, and Lam (2011) concluded that students’ goals and aims for pursuing undergraduate
education included mostly external reasons, including: self-improvement, achieving life goals,
and societal contributions, along with career, money, and family. That is, while numerous past
research has shown that the primary purpose of higher education is to acquire economic and
social benefits, current research suggests that higher education serves as a means to an end, with
the end being a high paying job. Stephens (2013) argued that there are “three main reasons
students go to university: (1) for the social experience, (2) to get a job, and (3) to learn for
learning’s sake” (p. 1-2). As a result, student goals and purposes for completing higher education
program have been increasingly motivated by the economic benefits of a college degree, rather
than the non-economic or social benefits of higher education, as highlighted by education
providers in the literature review.
In essence, college students in the 21st century have multiple aims and purposes for
higher education, including both extrinsic goals (e.g., to secure and/or to prepare for a future
career) and intrinsic or personal reasons (e.g., to experience self-growth). Students are facing a
future that increasingly requires deeper learning and labor-market-valued credentials, along with
relevant work experience and civic engagement opportunities. While undergraduate students
have often become motivated by the economic ambitions of higher education, they have also
been highly driven by the intellectual, personal, and social benefits of the college experience. As
a result, college leaders, faculty, and staff must embrace a new global reality in today’s rowdy
digital democracy. It’s no longer assumed that a college degree is the best path to a great job and
a great life (Coates & Morrison, 2016). As Deresiewicz (2014) noted, “college should be a time
for self-discovery, when students can establish their own values and measures of success, so they
can forge their own path” (p.1).
Data Sources
A comprehensive search of the literature was conducted between June 2014 and June
2015 to identify recent relevant publications (2000 to 2016) that explored the economic and
social benefits of higher education. Specifically, this study utilized Critical Interpretive Synthesis
(CIS) to compare education providers’ and student perspectives’ on the goals and purposes for
completing a college degree. CIS, a qualitative method derived by Dixon-Woods et al. (2006),
aims to establish theories and concepts from diverse bodies of existing literature through
systematic review and meta-ethnography methodologies. Generally speaking, CIS allows for
holistic judgments of the quality and coherence of the literature, with the goal of stimulating
questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions about new concepts and methods that are derived
from the text (Dixon-Woods et al., 2006). Rather than deconstructing such issues into units of
decontextualized study, CIS questions the ways in which the problems, assumptions, and
solutions are constructed in the literature from new interpretations of existing concepts and
constructs. Furthermore, CIS draws on strategies from meta-ethnography (i.e., Lines-Of-
Arguments as analysis strategy), and makes value judgments of many discourses and arguments
in various articles in order to develop synthetic arguments and claims for existing and emerging
concepts/constructs. That is, rather than focusing on isolated articles as units of analysis, CIS
treats the literature collected in qualitative study as an object of inquiry. The ultimate goal of CIS
is to bring together different types of research data, quantitative or qualitative, with other data
sources in order to identify and categorize an underlying mechanism of effect.
Data Materials
Seven databases were utilized to search for relevant peer-reviewed literature on the goals
and purposes of higher education through the use of CIS methodology: 1) Education Resources
Information Center (ERIC), 2) Education Research Complete (EBSCO), 3) Academic Search
Premier, 4) ProQuest, 5) Scopus, 6) Google Scholar, and 7) Specifically, articles
from 56 different journals were accessed and reviewed as part of the comprehensive search of
the literature, ranging from sources closely associated with higher education research (e.g.,
Review of Higher Education, The Journal of Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education),
discipline-specific educational outlets (e.g., History of Education, Sociology of Education,
Journal of Philosophy of Education), and journals representing various fields, including
business, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and information science. In addition to peer-
reviewed articles, a hand search of newspaper and magazine articles from The Chronicle of
Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed was performed.
The main foci during the search process were ‘purpose of higher education’, ‘role and
function of postsecondary education’, ‘bachelor’s degree,’ and ‘college degree.’ Synonyms and
alternative terms like ‘expectations’, ‘aims’, ‘goals’, ‘aspirations’, and ‘motivations’ were also
selected to help narrow the scope of the research. The ERIC, EBSCO, Academic Search Premier,
ProQuest, and Scopus database search utilized the following key terms and combinations:
all("purpose") AND all(higher education);
all("expectations") AND all(students) AND all(degree);
all("purpose") AND all(students) AND all(higher education);
all("goals") AND all(students) AND all(degree);
all("aims") AND all(students) AND all(higher education);
all("aspirations") AND all(students) AND all(degree);
all("value") AND all(university) AND all(degree);
all("value") AND all(students) AND all(degree).
Each of the above bulleted searches provided over 1,000 results. To narrow the search,
‘Education Level’ (e.g., ‘Higher Education’) and ‘Publication Date’ (e.g., ‘2000-2016’) filters
were selected. This restriction produced approximately 100 relevant articles of which were
reduced to a selection of 52 peer-reviewed articles concerning the aspirations and outcomes of a
college degree relative to generic skills and dispositional outcomes.
To further the selection of the literature, the search engine was used to
select published books on the public and private or personal purpose of higher education in the
21st century. The search terms consisted of:
‘purpose higher education’;
‘value higher education’;
‘function higher education;
‘goals university education’;
‘aims university education’;
‘student motivation college’;
‘student expectation education’.
To help narrow the search process, the ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’
option was selected to explore books of similar topics and themes. In total, approximately 40
books were found that appeared relevant to this study; however, only twenty-five books were
deemed appropriate for this study, based on the chapter themes and topics discussed by the
To ensure that all articles were selected, a final search was performed on Google Scholar
to identify other published peer-reviewed articles or scholarly books that may not have been
found via ERIC or Those search terms included:
‘purpose of higher education’;
‘value of higher education’;
‘aims of higher education’
‘goals of higher education’;
‘university expectations of university degree’;
‘student expectations of higher education’.
This search resulted in 24 peer-reviewed articles and 15 magazine or newspaper articles,
of which only eight peer-reviewed articles and magazine or newspaper articles were selected
based on their relevance to the goals and purposes for completing a college degree.
In total, 60 peer-reviewed articles, twenty-five books, eight magazines or newspaper
articles, and five policy briefs were considered relevant to the study. It is important to note that
peer-reviewed journal articles that examined the economic benefits for completing a college
degree were not selected for this study because they typically do not address the discipline-
specific competence and dispositional outcomes gained by undergraduate students. Additionally,
working papers and policy-brief reports published outside the peer-reviewed context were also
omitted in the selection process. Such restriction reduced the number of selected peer-reviewed
articles and books to 98.
Analysis of Data
This article utilized NVivo 10.0 software to organize the peer-reviewed articles, books,
newspapers, and magazines to identify and determine the synthetic constructs of both the internal
and external purposes of higher education, and the complex interplay that explained the social or
private benefits of completing a college degree. The author has had previous research experience
with the NVivo software from Macfarlane and Chan’s (2014) project on academic obituaries in
higher education.
Generally, the NVivo software has the capacity to store and code the data together to
create categories that are related to the theme or topic of the study. More specifically, NVivo
10.0, the leading commercial package for qualitative data analysis in the social sciences, was
used to code the data into themes or categories and to create a database for the 60 peer-reviewed
articles, twenty-five books, eight newspaper articles, and five policy briefs that were selected. At
the completion of the coding process, the findings of each article were used as a framework to
identify themes or topics that emerged from the literature review on the “non-economic” benefits
of higher education through a framework synthesis (or integrative grid) as shown in Table II on
the following page.
Table II. “Non-Economic” Benefits for Completing a College Degree based on Literature
Review Articles
As shown in Table II, nine synthetic constructs were identified from the NVivo software
that draw on numerous interpretations of the meaning and context of the non-economic or social
benefits of completing a college degree in the 21st century.
To further compare the public and private (personal) benefits for completing a college
degree, based on the literature review, Table III was developed through NVivo software to
categorize key authors/scholars’ work that analyzed the social or private benefits of higher
education according to higher education providers and undergraduate students.
Table III. Literatures on the “Non-Economic” Benefits for Completing Higher Education (by
publication year)
Theoretical Framework
Publications in the area of non-economic or social benefits of higher education are widely
dispersed across academic journals and policy briefs, rather than clustered in a specialist outlet.
This is partly because social or private benefits do not represent a mature sub-field of enquiry in
the same way that economic benefits do. Subsequently, a wide range of literature sources exist
that compare the public or economic benefits of higher education with the non-economic
perspective. However, there is also a misalignment gap within the literature between what
colleges and universities believe are the central reasons for higher education and what
undergraduate students feel are the reasons for attaining a college degree. As a result, this paper
utilizes signaling theory to understand the gap and disconnection that exists between
undergraduate students and higher education providers.
To enumerate, an individual decision to pursue a college degree is often measured by the
costs of education against the expected returns to that education. Signaling theory of education
reflects this concept, in which students’ inherent human capital prompts their desire to increase
their productivity in the workplace. Michael Spence (1973) first coined the model to explain how
individuals are rational and that they invest in education as long as the benefit of additional years
of schooling exceeds the cost. That is, college students pursue a specific degree program to jump
through the hoops of finding a job in order to make themselves viable in the labor market.
Signaling theory also implies that the social returns of education could be lower than the private
On one hand, higher education providers may serve the purpose of signaling student
abilities for higher-order skills as opposed to other purposes like increasing human capital or
employability. On the other hand, undergraduate students may signal their college degree to
increase their status in the job market. Consequently, the relative mismatch between education
providers and undergraduate students may signal out their purpose of completing a college
degree. More educated workers may receive higher pay wages because higher education
provides them with a credential, rather than acquired skills. However, as stressed by Weiss
(1995), higher education providers may also enhance student productivity and act as a signal
about their innate abilities. As a result, signaling theory was utilized as the theoretical framework
for data analysis to understand student decisions and choices in pursuing higher education and
understanding to what extent an educational credential is contributing to an individual’s
productivity-enhancing capital.
After analyzing the key literature sources and themes obtained through NVivo software,
the findings present both changes and continuities between education providers and student goals
on the social or private benefits for completing a higher education degree in the 21st century.
Specifically, the first finding suggests that the internal and external challenges of the public and
personal purposes of higher education have interacted to produce a misaligned gap between
university providers and undergraduate students, as shown in Table II and Table III.
To enumerate, current and past literature, analyzed through CIS and signaling theory, has
suggested that student expectations and purposes for completing undergraduate education tend to
be instrumental and personal, while institutional aims and purposes of undergraduate education
tend to be highly ideal (i.e. life- and society-changing consequences). Although Table II and
Table III solely reflect the number of sources found in the review and give no weighting to the
size or generalizability of the study, the findings suggest that much of the literature review
regarding the non-economic or social benefits of higher education published between 2000 and
2016 have either focused on the ‘Social Democratic Values & Action; Civic Engagement
(societal benefits)’ or ‘Vocation & Employment Preparedness (private benefits)’. That is, higher
education providers appear to focus on universal objectives aimed at reforming society and the
individual cognitive skills and communicative agendas. On the other hand, undergraduate
students appear to focus much more on personal, economic, family, and development goals at the
completion of their higher education program.
This result is not surprising, since we know that the ambition of higher education
institutions often tend to be global, long-term, and high-minded, while student ambitions tend to
be much more personal, short-termed, and economically rational, as highlighted in the literature
review. Specifically, student aims and motivations tend to be quite mixed, in which some of the
life goals and societal contributions do not seem incompatible with the more central objectivities
identified by scholars and institutions. While civic training and democratic engagement is clearly
emphasized in Table III as the most vital component for higher education providers to achieve a
greater end state, the contrasting perspective from undergraduate students on the non-economic
or social benefits of higher education is not highly apparent. Therefore, the misalignment gap
between education providers and undergraduate students is a source of concern in the field of
higher education, whereby research has yet to address the policy implications of the literary gap.
Perhaps the most notable study that attempted to address the misalignment gap was
provided by Baker, Baldwin, and Makker (2012); their study proposed that the gap between
higher education providers and undergraduate students is likely the result of the on-going
curricular changes occurring in liberal arts colleges across the United States, where colleges and
universities are diversifying their curriculum and investing in new vocational and professional
degree programs (Wolf, 2003). Such drastic neoliberal reforms may be the result of the
skyrocketing tuition cost of American colleges and universities, which are altering student
learning and engagement in the labor market. Furthermore, the rise of liberal arts may have kept
vocational programs from becoming excessively practical, of which many employers consider
important for success in their personal, career, and community lives (Docking & Curton, 2015;
Humphreys & Kelly, 2014). Thus, education providers’ desire to pursue multiple goals and
purposes have led to new conflicts between university stakeholders, in which colleges and
universities become less intellectually driven and culturally oriented and instead model
themselves on businesses and commercial ventures, which perhaps, may be detrimental to the
original public and private purposes of higher education (Barber, Donnelly, & Rizvi, 2013;
Edmundson, 2013).
For instance, Colby et. al. (2011) stated, “the idea that we have to choose between
vocational training and the rich, deep learning we associate with liberal arts is a false dichotomy
(p. 2).” Specifically, these researchers studied undergraduate business programs around the
country and found that the best programs combined major elements of a liberal arts education
and professional training. That is, pursing multiple goals and objectives within an academic
major is necessary for institutions and students to succeed in the global economy. However, as
noted in Table III, the relative misalignment gap between education providers and students may
ultimately suggest that higher education institutions have significant challenges in front of them,
whereby the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) - Coursera, Udacity, edX
and tuition-free online universities (e.g., University of the People, Saylor Academy, CreateU,
StraighterLine, Samaschool) have become powerful resources for knowledge acquisition and
skills development (Bowen, 2015; Matkin, 2013; Porter, 2015; Zemsky, 2014).
The second finding indicates that governments and labor markets expect higher education
institutions to develop skilled professionals that align with individualistic and careerist
motivations (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991; OECD, 2005). For
example, the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) and Tuning USA established a conceptual
model for higher education providers to ensure that the knowledge and coursework created by
the faculty aligns with civic, societal and workforce needs. More specifically, the Tuning project
effort, conducted by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and the
Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) attempts to re-install civic aims in American higher
education, including: 1) to contribute to the development of easily readable and comparable
degrees, and 2) to develop a bottom-up approach for modernizing existing and new degree
programs (Wagenaar, 2014). Like the DQP-Tuning initiative, the AAC&U’s highly respected
VALUE project (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) assists faculty
members in identifying the most commonly agreed upon criteria and standards for assessing
student learning gains and accomplishments in higher education (Maki, 2015). As many nations
stress the role of higher education in fostering research and innovation for economic growth and
development, “Tuning” university degree programs and qualifications have become essential in
helping both undergraduate and graduate students become more competent (e.g., career,
citizenship, global engagement) so that all students acquire the knowledge, dispositions and
competencies to be personally and economically self-sufficient and civically responsible (Vargos
Tamez, 2014).
The third finding revealed that undergraduate students do acquire knowledge,
dispositions and generic skills at the completion of their higher education degree programs, but
not often in traditional higher education institutions. Specifically, most of the literature suggests
that students often acquire skills at polytechnic or for-profit institutions (e.g., University of
Phoenix, Kaplan University), gap-year programs (e.g., Thiel Fellowship), as well as on-the-job
apprenticeship industry training (e.g., Venture for America, Philanthropy for America) or non-
traditional higher education programs (e.g., UnCollege, Deep Springs College, Minerva Schools
at KGI,), and sandwich programs (e.g., Eleven Fifty) (O’Shea, 2013). While for-profit providers
can help cultivate strong and ethical citizens that are needed for success in the labor market, for-
profit institutions and non-traditional higher education programs may also prevent students from
adopting a common language that synthesizes the higher education landscape (e.g., skills
development venues, research institutes, community and regional centers of democracy) (Bryer,
2014; Carey, 2015). However, as long as students and families perceive undergraduate education
as being primarily about access to economic and social rewards, then the grand ambitions of
higher education will likely continue to be undermined by instrumental motivations.
Consequently, some colleges and universities may continue to experience challenges in making
non-instrumental aspects of undergraduate education as powerfully evident to today’s students.
Notwithstanding the apparent consensus across institutions concerning the purposes and goals of
higher education, it may be that colleges and universities do little, if anything, to foreground their
objectives and, thus, view college students as customers or products for their degree programs.
However, if undergraduates were to actively encounter these ambitions in every course and see
the connection between their current study and the institution’s lofty ideals, then perhaps
misalignment between institutions and students would diminish overtime.
There are several recommendations for policymakers and government officials who seek
to address the misalignment gap between education providers and undergraduate students in the
21st century. The following section outlines eight recommendations that policymakers may
consider for addressing the potential misalignment gap between education providers and
undergraduate students.
Create Institutional Degree Profiles
The first recommendation is to require all colleges and universities to develop
institutional degree profiles within their country and define exactly what a college student should
know and be able to do in a chosen discipline at the completion of the postsecondary education
program. Specifically, policymakers and government officials might ask colleges and
universities to collaborate with their institutional research office, while outlining the purpose,
characteristics, career pathways, education style, and program outcomes of a particular major as
highlighted by Tuning USA’s (2014) Degree Specification Template. Such a paradigm would
help higher education institutions increase the relevance, recognition, and quality of their degree
programs; emphasize lifelong learning and undervalued skills (soft skills); and develop
transparency among different countries and within countries (Ssentamu, et al., 2014). At the
same time, college graduates would be able to act for the common good and be capable of doing
so effectively (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont & Stephens, 2003). In other words, institutions of
higher education should make extra efforts to align university degree programs with college
student’s work in understanding what learners should know and be able to do at the completion
of a college degree (Gonzalez & Yarosh, 2013).
Integration and Assessment of Graduate Attributes
A second recommendation is for policymakers to require colleges and universities to
assess the student body for their learning outcomes as part of institutional self-review - similar to
the processes of institutional review carried out at James Madison University (Wise & Cotten,
2009; Zilberberg, Brown, Harmes, & Anderson, 2009). Specifically, policymakers could create a
policy in which institutions of higher education must prioritize core non-cognitive skills that
promote student success in both college and career. For example, institutions of higher education
could obtain university evaluations of graduate attributes noted by employers or graduate schools
when students are selected for employment or entry to a position, similar to the “University of
Tasmania Policy on Generic Attributes of Graduates.” Similarly, career services office could
incorporate real-time labor market information into their decisions about program and
curriculum development (Dorrer, 2014). In addition, policymakers could adopt the European
Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) as a paradigm for colleges and
universities to help make qualifications more reasonable and understandable across different
countries (Aardema & Muguruza, 2014). In other words, assessment efforts that examine
whether students are prepared for the workforce and whether institutions are pursuing education
for education’s sake can serve as a tool for campus leaders to understand where an institution
falls when educating the whole student. By implementing effective assessments in higher
education, campus leaders can provide “more evidence of the values and outcomes associated
with the individual and public investments” (Keller, 2012, p. 383).
Develop Repurposing Strategies on Student Engagement
A third recommendation is for policymakers to ask university leaders to develop
repurposing strategies centered around student engagement, since past higher education literature
claims that what matters most in student learning and personal development is what the students
do in college (Astin, 1993; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2005; Pascarella &
Terenzini, 2005). Generally, student engagement (e.g., academic, civic, social) plays an
important role in achieving desirable college outcomes, such as: student learning, academic
performance, and persistence (Hu & Kuh, 2003; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, & Gonyea, 2008).
These practices may consist of: (1) first-year seminars, (2) common intellectual experiences, (3)
learning communities, (4) writing-intensive courses, (5) collaborative assignments and projects,
(6) undergraduate research, (7) diversity/global learning, (8) service learning, (9) internships, and
(10) capstone projects (Brownell & Swaner, 2010). However, little is known about the
relationship between student engagement and career or occupational outcomes following college
(Hu & Wolniak, 2013). Because numerous studies have suggested a positive relationship
between student engagement and student learning (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Pascarella &
Terenzini, 2005), policymakers should encourage leaders of higher education to utilize analytic
data and to develop repurposing strategies that improve career or occupational opportunities
prior to students’ transition from and to the labor market. For example, policymakers could
require undergraduate freshman and senior students to undergo comprehensive self-assessment
reports such as the VIA Survey ( and Strengths Quest
( that will help them identify areas of personal strengths and
weaknesses. In addition, policymakers could require institutional leaders to utilize analytics to
help more students learn in the classroom, with such tools as Civitas Learning (Milliron, 2016).
Moreover, policy leaders could ask faculty members to require students to complete international
assessment reports on cultural and global competences acquired in college such as, Cultural
Intelligence Center ( or Global Competence Aptitude Assessment
( as well as digital badges ( endorsed by
outside experts to add evidence or value of their learning outcomes from transcripts, MOOCs,
certificates, and/or courses prior to employment. By requiring students to complete such
assessments, universities and university stakeholders would be able to acquire objective insights
for improving student attitudes, beliefs and people skills that are necessary for effectiveness into
our global economy.
Establish a Mentorship Program between Alumni and Students
A fourth recommendation is for policymakers to require institutional
advancement/development offices to connect alumni with current undergraduate students
through a mentorship program. Typically, the only way we leverage alumni is to ask them for
money. Rather than simply asking alumni to give back to their alma mater, policymakers could
require fundraising professionals (e.g., board of trustees, the president, development officers) in
higher education to ask their alumni to serve as mentors for incoming undergraduate students
during their transition into college. A 2014 Gallop-Purdue Index surveyed more than 30,000
graduates in the United States and concluded that few graduates had a mentor during their four
critical years in higher education (The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report, 2014). Accordingly,
policymakers could develop a policy in which student affairs professionals must work with
institutional advancement offices to connect undergraduate students with their alumni, which
would allow them to identify how their coursework connects with their career goals. As Moore
(2013) stated, “educators must create conditions under which students learn to think rigorously
about the nature of the professional and/or civic work they do, the settings in which it happens,
and the dynamics of larger society” (p. 203). Thus, one can argue that college works best when
student affairs practitioners focus on cultivating student’s relationships with mentors during their
time in college (Chambliss & Takacs, 2014).
Adopt an Open Loop University Model
A fifth recommendation is for policymakers to consider establishing an open loop
university model where students receive six years of undergraduate education over a lifetime,
rather than the traditional four years of college between ages 18-22. More specifically, policy
leaders could adopt Stanford University’s “Stanford 2025” model (,
where undergraduate students begin their postsecondary education at any age level after high
school and complete a certain amount of courses throughout their lifetime, which aligns with
their future aspirational and/or career goals. The model’s flexibility would empower students in
applying their workplace knowledge and skills to academic courses, for the purpose of
generating a greater impact from their college degree. Furthermore, students would be able to
create positive expectations with their learning goals, develop more engaging relationships with
their peers, see past struggles, and focus on new on-campus possibilities. As Busteed (2015)
explained, “college won’t be the magic bullet they [students] hoped for, unless they take full
advantage of it by finding great professors and mentors, working on long-term projects, finding
internships that apply what they are learning, and being extremely involved in an extracurricular
activity” (p. 5).
Integrate the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) Initiative
A sixth recommendation is for policymakers to require colleges and universities to
integrate the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative developed by the USA Funds and the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF). Modeled after the supply chain management
best practices already familiar to employers, the TPM methodology turns the traditional
education-to-employment process by repositioning employers as end-customers and then
working backward to shape educational content and delivery (U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Foundation, 2014). Today, eight U.S. states have responded to the call to support postsecondary
education students’ attainment of credentials and competencies that lead to productive and
rewarding jobs and careers through the support of Completion with a PurposeSM project by USA
Funds. The ultimate goal of TPM is to bridge the divide between education and labor to deliver
value to students, business, education, and society at large. The TPM contains six strategies: 1)
Organizing employer collaborative, 2) Engaging in demand planning, 3) Communicating
competency and credential requirements, 4) Analyzing talent flows, 5) Implementing shared
performance measures, and 6) Aligning incentives (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation,
2015). By developing a policy that requires colleges and universities to integrate the TPM
initiative on-campus, leaders of higher education can move forward in building the next
generation of employer-led education and workforce partnerships to meet the skills gap and
workforce challenges of our time.
Partner with Employment Tech Organizations
A seventh recommendation is for policymakers to require career service officers to
partner with “employment tech” firms that have developed repurposing strategies and solutions
to address the skills gap between college graduates and employers. For example,
Innovate+Educate is an industry-led non-profit organization that has focused on total systemic
transformation through national policy advocacy and movement building, boundary-pushing
research, and the development of tools and resources to close the skills gap between college
graduates and employers. Through its annual “Close It Summit” conference, Innovate+Educate
showcases how technology solutions in hiring, training, and credentialing can disrupt the
traditional market by forging bold new pathways to employment and training for students. By
creating a policy or scheme to which career services must partner with employment tech firms,
college graduates would be able to better connect with employers during and after college that
align with their knowledge and skills rather than a university degree.
Involve the Faculty and the Board of Trustees
The eighth and final recommendation is for policymakers to require senior campus
leaders (e.g., vice-presidents, deans, chairs, senior international officers) to collaborate with the
faculty, the board, and upper-level administrators in controlling the academic work and
relationship between the institution and the marketplace. Often referred to as “academic
capitalism,” the involvement of faculty in market-like behaviors is crucial to ensure that
professors are pursuing knowledge as a public good rather than knowledge as a commodity for
profit (Palmadessa, 2014). Generally, academic capitalism challenges the traditional purpose of
higher education in providing open access to knowledge for the betterment of society, for the
purpose of creating an engaged, active, and educated populace (Welsh, et al., 2008). Slaughter
and Rhoades (2004) defined academic capitalism as the university’s “pursuit of market and
market-like activities to generate external revenues” (p. 11). That is, academic capitalism has
often prompted faculty to function independently as market agents for the global market
economy, which has often resulted in an on-going tension between faculty and administrators
with issues surrounding diversity, governance, academic freedom, and distribution of power
(Gross & Simmons, 2014; Ginsberg, 2011; Rothman, Kelly-Woessner, & Woessner, 2011). As
higher education institutions continue to face new pressures and challenges over knowledge
discovered or created by the faculty, policymakers should develop a policy that forces university
leaders and university planners to help undergraduate students define precisely what their goals
and dreams ought to be at the completion of a bachelor’s degree (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2005).
For example, policymakers could develop a policy scheme in which the university
president would involve the faculty and board in a serious discussion about the public and
personal purpose of higher education while defining its niche through a strategic plan, and
implementing the plan into a classroom setting that addresses the goals and aims of higher
education. A significant benefit from this approach would be greater institutional autonomy as
well as greater faculty voice in governance to meet accountability expectations (Bowen & Tobin,
2015; Zemsky, 2013). Publicly funded institutions would then not only be able to claim lofty,
socially beneficial goals within their mission statement, but also demonstrate that highly-valued
outcomes are in fact achieved by students within their degree programs. That is, creating
meaningful and permanent change in the lives of students requires intentional transformation by
campus leaders (Johansson & Felten, 2014). The long-term benefit for infusing such policy
would be that undergraduate students would recognize and identify the social / private benefits
for completing a college degree. Furthermore, employers would be able to judge students based
on their abilities, and the colleges’ and universities’ ideas would add value for contemporary
society. Such implementation would assist in creating stronger student effort in acquiring the
knowledge and skills that meet the globally competitive labor market and also help liberal arts
colleges resist the pressure to vocationalize the curriculum. This would allow providers to
continue to play an important role in developing a socially responsible and global-minded
citizenship in the 21st century (Roth, 2014). Needless to say, “today’s education for democracy
needs to be informed by deep engagement with the values of liberty, equality, individual worth,
open mindedness, and the willingness to collaborate with people of differing views and
backgrounds toward common solutions for the public good” (The National Task Force, 2012, p.
This study adds to an on-going and active policy discussion regarding the public and
private purpose of higher education in the 21st century. Today’s society needs college graduates
who are not only knowledgeable and intellectual, but also learners who can holistically
contribute to their communities. This paper outlines the need for policymakers to develop
repurposing policies and programs that reconnect undergraduate students with discipline-specific
competences and generic skills with the labor market, and provides clear statements of desired
learning outcomes that promote economic competitiveness and democratic vitality. In addition,
this study encourages policymakers to rethink strategies in which faculty members mentor
college students both academically and professionally, in a way that best aligns with both
individual and career motivations. Furthermore, this paper illustrates how policymakers can
create informal policies that encourage the faculty to develop innovative programs, curricula, and
experiences that lead to the development of demonstrable proficiencies, as aligned with 21st
century skills.
Obviously, initiating and implementing such an agenda is both methodologically and
politically challenging; however, to remain economically competitive in the global marketplace,
policymakers should ask university leaders to adopt a broad-based, comprehensive reform of
undergraduate education to ensure that all students understand, pursue, and develop the
proficiencies needed for work, life, and responsible citizenship (Chunoo & Osteen, 2016). As far
too many students graduate underprepared for twenty-first-century work and citizenship (Finley,
2012), new efforts to serve, support, and graduate a more diverse and changing population is
essential for developing students’ skills in college and beyond (Holzer, 2015). Future research
should examine how students as well as presidents define the public and private purpose of
higher education in the 21st century (Dunek, 2015). Additionally, formal research that compares
how different types of institutions – particularly research universities – perceive their overall
college degree value, and to what extent they may or may not support students of different
identities (i.e., race, religion, gender) is crucial for policymakers to better predict social,
economic, cultural and political changes, all of which are essential to address the growing skills
gap between education providers and undergraduate students, as well as employers and college
graduates (Crow & Dabars, 2015). As Perna (2012) stated, “educational providers at all levels
can and must do more to better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs, especially in
Metropolitan America” (p. 274).
Accordingly, this paper attempts to revitalize the interest and research on the goals and
purposes for higher education, and the importance for policymakers and government officials to
develop policies through intentional partnerships that better prepare all students for meaningful
careers and global citizenship that is direct, systematic, and creative (Clydesdale, 2015). Though
particular elements of higher education do align well with student aims and expectations, this
paper argues that there is a significant mismatch between the lofty and, possibly unattainable,
ideals advocated by institutions and the somewhat pragmatic, instrumental goals and aims of
college students.
Hence, this research has documented how higher education institutions do share some
goals and purposes with undergraduate students. While there are some similarities, this study
illustrates that there are contrasting emphases between education providers and undergraduate
students on the social or private benefits of completing a higher education degree. Thus, this
study has pointed to an important, yet unfulfilled, research agenda in higher education study. If
students today are graduating from college having learned very little, then what is the public and
private purpose of higher education? Do college degrees fulfill the institutional ambitions of
advanced skills, general competencies, and high ideals by the time students graduate from
college? Providing an answer would require operationalizing the institutional purposes,
collecting data about the value-added impact on student skills and dispositions, and using such
data to consider modifications to pedagogy, curriculum, and faculty development. Indeed,
approaching this complex and larger issue may appear to be one of the most important and
crucial self-evaluation tasks a university could undergo if colleges and universities seek to avoid
an “avalanche” or “crucible moment” that may be coming in the revolution ahead.
The author of this paper would like to acknowledge Dr. Gavin T. L. Brown, Dr. Larry H.
Ludlow, Dr. Juan José Martí Noguera, Dr. Joshua S. Goodman, Dr. Krishna Bista, and Charles
K. Fadel for providing feedback and comments in this article.
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Roy Y. Chan is a Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy Studies at Indiana University,
Bloomington. Roy holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in Higher Education Administration
from Boston College and a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in Comparative Higher
Education from The University of Hong Kong. Roy's research interest focuses on the economic
and non-economic benefits of a college degree, the globalization and internationalization of
higher education, and the role of philanthropy and fundraising in shaping U.S. higher education.
Roy is co-author of the book Higher Education: A Worldwide Inventory of Research Centers,
Academic Programs, and Journals and Publications (2014) and is the co-editor of the book
Exploring the Future of Accessibility in Higher Education (in press). He currently serves on the
editorial advisory boards of the Journal of International Students and Journal of Critical
Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs, and has published research articles on the
topics of higher education leadership, student learning, and alumni engagement. He is an active
member of ASHE, AERA, CIES, and NAFSA.
Chan, R. Y. (2016). Understanding the purpose of higher education: An analysis of the
economic and social benefits for completing a college degree. Journal of Education
Policy, Planning and Administration, 6(5), 1-40. Retrieved from:
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Permission is hereby granted to copy any article provided that the Journal of Education
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... Traditionally, universities were anticipated to pursue impartial truth through research and teaching (Sin et al., 2019). Nowadays, universities are expected to provide diverse skills and competences, facilitate knowledge acquisition, enhance intellectual abilities, improve students' employability and enable them to contribute to their communities (Chan, 2016;Sin et al., Teaching, assessment and academic performance ...
... The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at: 2019). Even though students' expectations for higher education are largely driven by their personal aspirations and circumstances, studies report a growing need for policymakers to design educational programs that provide students with the competences and skills required by labor markets (Chan, 2016). Prior research suggests that although universities have been focusing on preparing work-ready graduates and increasing teaching effectiveness, most academics believe that higher education should place its emphasis on developing critical reasoning and intellectual capacity (Watty, 2006). ...
Purpose By focusing on a Greek traditional learning university, during and post Covid-19 restrictions, the study aims at examining the concurrent effects of teaching and assessment format on students' academic performance. The inclusion of case studies in course assessment post Covid-19 restrictions is also expected to give a rough insight into students' employability skills and workplace readiness. Design/methodology/approach The academic performance of 489 undergraduate students, as determined by the grades they earned, was measured in the final exams of business-to-business marketing and integrated marketing communication courses, held in January 2021 and 2022 at a Greek public university. The primary predictor variable or interest was “teaching and assessment format”, and took two values: (1) online teaching with multiple-choice assessment format (during Covid-19 restrictions) and (2) traditional classroom teaching with in-person case study and open-ended assessment format (post Covid-19 restrictions). Findings Grades were found to be affected by the participants' year of study, the type of marketing course, in which they were examined, and the teaching and assessment format employed. Either in whole or by gender, students appear to perform significantly worse in the traditional teaching with in-person case study and open-ended questions assessment format. Practical implications Good pedagogical practice in the use of digital technology is advised to incorporate diverse teaching tools and assessment methods. Originality/value Examination of the concurrent effects of teaching and assessment on academic performance unveils significant variation in students' academic performance under different formats, which may be attributable to multiple reasons.
... The most pressing of these has been identified to be the acquisition of knowledge and critical social and economic skills (Benson & Boyd, 2015). Even though higher education is better known for its role in educating elites for professional tasks and roles of authority in society (de Boer et al., 2019), Chan (2016) argues that "higher education often extends beyond individuals to society and from the economic to social realms". Nevertheless, the economic significance of higher education cannot be understated given the fact that top economies, including China, India, Brazil, and Russia, have improved and strengthened their economic performance by being proactive to the higher educational community globally (Aziz et al., 2013). ...
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The study explores how three (3) educational institutions within the Cape Coast Metropolis embraced technological changes in the light of COVID-19. Using a purposive sampling technique, 20 heads of department were sampled to explore how technological change was managed in the respective institutions.
... Higher education is understood to produce graduates who have acquired the needed knowledge and core competencies [1] and dispositions such as their ability to think logically and creatively, their values in dealing with complex situations [2] and their ability to be with different kinds of people. It is the university's responsibility to provide this quality education in order to make its graduates employable and capable of dealing with challenging global situations in an effective manner [3]. ...
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p> This study analyzed the students’ learning experiences in the Communication Program from a university in the Philippines. A descriptive method was used in analyzing the data gathered from the researcher-made questionnaires and exit interviews of the perceived fourth year student-respondents. Using categories of students’ learning experiences, findings revealed that experiential learning and social climate contribute mostly to their best and worst experiences in the university. Furthermore, aside from problem solving and application of theories into practice, quality of lectures, and discussion, three themes surfaced particularly related to the self, faculty, and university. As learners are encouraged to actively participate in the teaching-learning process and continue to make sense of their identity in a learning environment, the higher education institutions also have equal responsibilities of providing conditions that are conducive to achieving target learning outcomes. Such conditions comprise the schools’ facilities and information technology infrastructure, and carefully designed instructional packages including quality instructional materials and competent teachers. This study provides recommendations in redesigning the Communication Program based on the students' learning experiences. </p
... Indeed, CT has been described as an essential component of high-quality postsecondary education. According to Chan (2016), teaching CT in the context of higher education is fundamental to students becoming self-sufficient, independent, and well-rounded thinkers. However, developing critical thinkers within mass higher education systems is hardly a simple process. ...
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Purpose This study explores the relationships between the cognitive demands of the questions asked by a teacher educator (TE) and prospective teachers’ (PT) capacity for critical thinking (CT). Design/Approach/Methods Participants comprised a TE and 32 PTs. The cognitive demands of the TE's questions and PTs’ CT were analyzed using a systematic observation approach. Findings Results indicate that there are tangible connections between the increasing mental demand of TE questions and PTs’ higher-order cognitive processing. The PTs achieved higher-order CT when the TE asked more cognitively demanding questions. For instance, when the TE's questions were pitched at the cognitive demand levels—namely, the analyze, evaluate, and/or create levels—the PT answers were longer and reflected higher CT, such as inductive reasoning, suggesting new ways of thinking, or legitimating the arguments of others. Accordingly, results suggest that intentionally subjecting PTs to sustained higher cognitive demands via questions may help them reach their optimal CT capacity. Originality/Value Although proposed teaching strategies have been invaluable in proposing content-specific interventions for fostering the CT of university students, how lecturers should use their questions to conduct such interventions has been overlooked. This study addresses this gap.
... Talking specifically about higher education (HE), the expectation is that all college students develop disciplinespecific competencies, generic skills and dispositions (Chan, 2016). The role of HE is not only related to economics or employment benefits but also to preparing individuals with generic skills, including the life-long learning process or learning in complex environments (Palletier et al., 2021), for example, a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). ...
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With the introduction of digital technologies in education and the diversification of learning modalities, research has sought to identify the characteristics of each modality in order to develop successful learning. The Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is a developing concept that takes advantage of digital technologies and their implications in different modalities. This research aims to identify how the educational modality contributes to the development of PLEs in higher education. We compared two case studies in online and face-to-face contexts in Mexican higher education through a case survey methodology using a questionnaire and a descriptive statistical analysis of five categories: self-perception, management of information, management of the learning process, communication and learning experience. Results show that online students focus on the use of information management skills and on self-regulation of the learning process, whereas face-to-face students are oriented towards the use of communication skills. In conclusion, we identify two PLE profiles whose main differences arise from the students’ learning approaches, one based on social interaction and the other guided by learning aims, two aspects that may contribute to the development of learning strategies for transition between modalities. Finally, we contribute to the support of face-to-face learning in virtual environments and emergency remote teaching.
The World Economic Forum's 2018 report indicated that students will need to be prepared for a rapidly changing, technology-filled world in which their future jobs likely do not yet exist. Recent education reform initiatives have focused on preparing the workforce for 21st century jobs by improving STEM literacy and acknowledging the importance of teacher preparation. Unfortunately, many teachers, designers, and technologists have not been trained in the same ways as they are expected to prepare students, and training opportunities are often delivered in traditional, business-as-usual formats. To better prepare individuals to prepare students, reimagining traditional educational delivery and modalities, while integrating STEM, making, and play to encourage the development and practice of 21st century skills may prepare those adult learners build toward the future. This chapter will discuss administrative and curricular changes we made geared toward meeting our adult audiences' needs in a teacher education program following their learning preferences.
Conference Paper
The process of career development has been shown to be different for young people living in rural areas, as compared to those living in urban areas [1] [2]. This paper fills an important gap in the research literature by demonstrating the current need for tailored career education programs for students in rural and urban areas of Nova Scotia, Canada, especially as pertaining to ocean sciences and the marine industry. Here, we investigate data from a large study performed in Nova Scotia wherein students in grades 6-9 were asked about their career intentions and perceptions. Significant differences were noted between students living in urban and rural areas, especially regarding their readiness to begin thinking about a range of career paths. These differences can be leveraged with career education initiatives to improve career opportunities for rural students, and by extension, the local economy.
Numerous empirical investigations have explored the contribution of emotional intelligence to academic success. Although these studies have contributed to the literature, most have adopted variable‐centric analytic approaches that may mask our understanding of the nuanced association between emotional intelligence, noncognitive factors, and academic success. Therefore, the current study was designed to identify unique emotional intelligence profiles using latent‐class analysis. A convenience sample of university students (N = 432, 79.7% Caucasian, 80.62% female, 18–65 years old, X ̅ $\mathop{X}\limits^{̅}\,$Age = 21.55 ± 5.47) attending two public universities completed the Brief Emotional Intelligence Scale, Brief Cope Inventory, Inventory of School Motivation, Engagement Versus Disaffection with Learning Scale, Cognitive Test Anxiety Scale‐2nd Edition, and Perceived Stress Scale. The sample consisted of freshman (13.87%), sophomore (32.53%), junior (35.16%), senior (13.15%), and master's (5.26%) students. Using latent profile analysis, we identified four unique emotional intelligence profiles which differed along competencies identified in the ability model of emotional intelligence. Follow‐up analyses indicated that problem and social‐focused coping strategies, mastery orientation, and behavioral and emotional engagement contributed to the separation of students belonging to the identified profiles. Our discussion focuses on the importance of fostering emotional intelligence within higher education settings to support student success. Students were assigned to low emotional intelligence, moderate emotional intelligence, high emotional intelligence, and other‐focused utilization profiles. There were significant differences in problem‐focused coping, social‐focused coping, perceived stress, mastery goals, emotional engagement, and behavioral engagement across emotional intelligence profiles. There were no significant differences in avoidant coping, cognitive test anxiety, emotional disaffection, behavioral disaffection, social goals, and performance goals across emotional intelligence profiles. Students were assigned to low emotional intelligence, moderate emotional intelligence, high emotional intelligence, and other‐focused utilization profiles. There were significant differences in problem‐focused coping, social‐focused coping, perceived stress, mastery goals, emotional engagement, and behavioral engagement across emotional intelligence profiles. There were no significant differences in avoidant coping, cognitive test anxiety, emotional disaffection, behavioral disaffection, social goals, and performance goals across emotional intelligence profiles.
American higher education is at a crossroads. Technological innovations and disruptive market forces are buffeting colleges and universities at the very time their financial structure grows increasingly fragile. Disinvestment by states has driven up tuition prices at public colleges, and student debt has reached a startling record-high of one trillion dollars. Cost-minded students and their families--and the public at large--are questioning the worth of a college education, even as study after study shows how important it is to economic and social mobility. And as elite institutions trim financial aid and change other business practices in search of more sustainable business models, racial and economic stratification in American higher education is only growing. In American Higher Education in Crisis?: What Everyone Needs to Know, Goldie Blumenstyk, who has been reporting on higher education trends for 25 years, guides readers through the forces and trends that have brought the education system to this point, and highlights some of the ways they will reshape America's colleges in the years to come. Blumenstyk hones in on debates over the value of post-secondary education, problems of affordability, and concerns about the growing economic divide. Fewer and fewer people can afford the constantly increasing tuition price of college, Blumenstyk shows, and yet college graduates in the United States now earn on average twice as much as those with only a high-school education. She also discusses faculty tenure and growing administrative bureaucracies on campuses; considers new demands for accountability such as those reflected in the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard; and questions how the money chase in big-time college athletics, revelations about colleges falsifying rankings data, and corporate-style presidential salaries have soured public perception. Higher education is facing a serious set of challenges, but solutions have also begun to emerge. Blumenstyk highlights how institutions are responding to the rise of alternative-educational opportunities and the new academic and business models that are appearing, and considers how the Obama administration and public organizations are working to address questions of affordability, diversity, and academic integrity. She addresses some of the advances in technology colleges are employing to attract and retain students; outlines emerging competency-based programs that are reshaping conceptions of a college degree, and offers readers a look at promising innovations that could alter the higher education landscape in the near future. An extremely timely and focused look at this embattled and evolving arena, this primer emphasizes how open-ended the conversation about higher education's future remains, and illuminates how big the stakes are for students, colleges, and the nation.
Until very recently, American universities were led mainly by their faculties, which viewed intellectual production and pedagogy as the core missions of higher education. Today, as Benjamin Ginsberg warns in this eye-opening, controversial book, "deanlets"--administrators and staffers often without serious academic backgrounds or experience--are setting the educational agenda. The Fall of the Faculty examines the fallout of rampant administrative blight that now plagues the nation's universities. In the past decade, universities have added layers of administrators and staffers to their payrolls every year even while laying off full-time faculty in increasing numbers--ostensibly because of budget cuts. In a further irony, many of the newly minted--and non-academic--administrators are career managers who downplay the importance of teaching and research, as evidenced by their tireless advocacy for a banal "life skills" curriculum. Consequently, students are denied a more enriching educational experience--one defined by intellectual rigor. Ginsberg also reveals how the legitimate grievances of minority groups and liberal activists, which were traditionally championed by faculty members, have, in the hands of administrators, been reduced to chess pieces in a game of power politics. By embracing initiatives such as affirmative action, the administration gained favor with these groups and legitimized a thinly cloaked gambit to bolster their power over the faculty. As troubling as this trend has become, there are ways to reverse it. The Fall of the Faculty outlines how we can revamp the system so that real educators can regain their voice in curriculum policy.
Scarcely a week goes by without coverage in the UK and international media about the latest MOOC revelation. Despite some significant initiatives in the dotcom era, online learning has somehow never delivered on its promise to revolutionize education. To MOOC or not to MOOC explores the history of MOOCs and analyses the current MOOC context by describing six institutions and the story of their engagement with MOOCs. Looking at each of the different type of institution in turn, it analyses the processes behind their decision to engage with online learning and MOOCs, how the MOOC project is managed and led, and discusses issues such as quality assurance, governance and partnerships. Chapters draw together and analyse the data and draw out advice for institutions, to help them make choices about how to respond to MOOCs and other high-impact changes in digital education. The book contains checklists and planning tools to support strategy and planning, and concludes with a future look at MOOCs exploring some of the possible trends that may impact upon higher education, such as business models, data and analytics, learning design and competitors in the MOOC marketplace.
For many students, a bachelor's degree is considered the golden ticket to a more financially and intellectually fulfilling life. But the disturbing reality is that debt, unemployment, and politically charged pseudo learning are more likely outcomes for many college students today than full-time employment and time-honored knowledge.This raises the question: is college still worth it? Who is responsible for debt-saddled, undereducated students, and how do future generations of students avoid the same problems? In a time of economic uncertainty, what majors and schools will produce competitive graduates? Is College Worth It? uses personal experience, statistical analysis, and real-world interviews to provide answers to some of the most troubling social and economic problems of our time.
Addresses what educators, young people, and concerned citizens can do to reclaim higher education from market-driven neoliberal ideologies.
Although disagreeing about how much of an increase is requred, most scholars agree that the United States must raise the educational attainment of its population in order to meet the knowledge requirements of future jobs (see Zumeta 2010 for a discussion of this debate). In Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, Anthony Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl (2010) attempt to quantify this need. They project that, by 2018, about two-thirds (63 percent) of all jobs (including both new and replacement jobs) will require at least some postsecondary education or training, up from 59 percent in 2008 and just 28 percent in 1973 (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl 2010). Their projections further suggest that "most job openings for people with a high school education or less will be low-wage jobs, and many of these will be part-time or transition jobs" (Carnevale 2010: vii). Carenvale, Smith, and Strohl demonstrate int heir chapter in this volume that workers with postsecondary education will have access to a wide range of occupations, whereas workers with no more than a high school diploma will be concentrated in blue collar, sales and office support, and food and personal services occupations.