Pro/Con: Should universities’ goal be personal development?

Education can open lots of doors. While colleges promote all the wonderful opportunities that come with higher education, the main focus of college learning should be professional development, not “finding yourself.”If I wanted to pay for personal development, I’d hire a therapist or a life coach. As it is, I pay tuition to be educated. Yes, part of being educated is to learn more about yourself and the world around you and to think critically. But personal development is an effect of good education and shouldn’t be the goal.

Going to college is an investment. You invest time and money in hopes that you will become a qualified candidate for higher paying jobs. This isn’t about padding resumes but really taking the time to master the skills in your field and making contacts through projects and internships if possible.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use college to explore personal development. College is the perfect atmosphere for that; there are many different people and lots of activities, you’re on your own for the first time, you’re getting a feel of what field you want to pursue a career in. By all means, use the time you have in college to find yourself.

But the responsibility is on you, not the school. It shouldn’t be the university’s responsibility to make sure that students take advantage of these opportunities. Personal development can happen in a classroom just as it can happen at home or at a party or at work.Personal development is personal, meaning you decide if you want to expand your world view or not. A teacher can make you think about something in a different way, but only you can chose to change yourself.

Trying to make personal development another requirement on the teachers’ checklist isn’t fair to the teacher or student. Teachers who want to focus on it will; those who don’t, won’t. Same for students. It is just a side effect of university life. The real job of the university is to provide the opportunity and skilled faculty and the materials to develop a highly educated work force to better enrich the community.

Sure, it would be great for the community if everyone sat in coffee shops had deep discussions about philosophy and literature and life. But at the end of the day, I don’t care if my doctor has read Kierkegaard. It’s much more important to me how well she did in medical school. And I don’t care if my accountant doesn’t know the physical differences of Australopithecus and homo erectus. I just want my taxes done correctly.

In many countries, there are no general education requirements in college. Students only take classes needed for their field of study. I wouldn’t suggest we go that far. Some general education classes provide ways to see your field from an outside perspective, and they certainly help those students who are undecided about a major when they start school.

But spending time taking all these general education classes makes you start to feel like college is just a sample platter of education with the meat of study in graduate school. You float from speech to biology to music, and without goals being set in place there really is nothing to focus on except personal emotional growth. But the goal of college isn’t to get a small taste of everything. You shouldn’t have to go to graduate school to start to delve into your field of study. There should be a solid foundation and focus at the undergraduate level.

Let’s face it: it’s possibly the worst time to graduate. As a senior, I’m seeing this for myself. In this economy, you have to be a knowledgeable, hard worker with a solid education to be a viable job candidate. Even then, there is no guarantee the investment will pay off right away. But it is certainly better to leave college with a solid academic foundation than only a better sense of self-esteem and no skills.

College has always been a place of transition. Early in American history, colleges trained students to be ordained ministers and doctors. They later expanded to focus on agriculture and scientific research. Both missions intended for students to take their learned skills after graduation and apply them to society . In the twentieth century, more and more people fought for the right and the funding to go to college. It wasn’t because of the parties. It was because a college education meant higher salaries, more opportunities, and a better standard of living.

Tech’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to provide leadership and outstanding programs in engineering, the sciences, and related areas that benefit the people of Tennessee and the nation.”

As a technological university, of course Tech should focus on engineering and the sciences, and it also has strong programs in other fields. Whatever the department, the idea remains the same: train students to be beneficial community leaders through a solid education and opportunities for research and hands-on experience.

Find yourself through your own endeavors and let colleges focus on education.