Briana Walker

Professor Elisha Emerson

English 110 C

8 September 2017

The Purpose of Higher Education

     The opportunity to receive some form of higher education is a privilege sought after by millions of students each year. The motives that drive this desire vary among these students; however, drawing from personal experience of conversations with classmates and friends, most seem to view higher education as the gateway to career based success. In my opinion, however, the purpose of higher education is for students to come to understand and effectively employ adaptive learning skills and compassion, two essential life-long tools for success in the ever changing and complex world in which we reside.

     In today’s society where advancements in technology and innovation are transforming the job market at an increasingly rapid pace, a student’s practical purpose at an institution of higher education is to become a lifelong adaptive learner. Ronald Barnett, the author of The Idea of Higher Education, highlights the importance of adaptive learning in his work when he states that the only way for a student to experience true higher education is through “subverting the student’s taken-for-granted world, including the world of endeavor, scholarship, calculation or creativity” (155-6).  By taking Barnett’s advice and turning a student’s previously “cosy” world upside down, institutions of higher education create challenging environments for their scholars to navigate and adapt to, consequently leading these students to learn to utilize available resources, wield critical thinking skills and implement problem solving abilities in unfamiliar settings. In my short time at UNE, I have already experienced an uprooting of the academic world I have always known, forcing me to adapt and modify my study and learning habits in order to find success in the classroom. In the dynamic world that we live in now, the ability to understand and demonstrate adaptive learning skills prove invaluable in the community, personal relationships and especially in the workplace because, as Barnett states firmly in his work, “things could always be other than they are”(155-6). For example, if a company suddenly needs to make cuts due to a lull in the economy, the employees who have shown the ability to think on their feet and adapt alongside the company in difficult and high stress situations are the same employees that will most likely keep their jobs. Therefore, students must be willing, time and again throughout their lives, to modify their current knowledge, behavior and learning processes in order to make progress with the changing world around them.

     A student’s social purpose at an institution of higher education is to become a compassionate individual that positively contributes to society post graduation. As Martha Nussbaum points out in her work titled, “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy”, U.S universities understand the importance of having caring individuals in society, therefore using the liberal arts model of education to produce, “informed, independent and sympathetic democratic citizens”(64-5). Through the liberal arts, students are afforded the opportunity to view and engage the world from numerous perspectives, which, in turn, fosters citizens with an understanding of compassion and acceptance that they will carry with them into the world. The value of demonstrating compassion in real life situations can currently be seen in the south western part of the United States, where Hurricane Harvey has wrought havoc on communities such as Houston, Texas. A large number of first responders, safety personnel and community members have employed their adaptive learning skills in an unfamiliar, challenging environment in order to care and advocate for those affected by the storm. Due to this display of compassion from citizens, Texas communities will be brought closer together and find far more success in surviving and coping with the devastation that Harvey has inflicted

     In closing, the purpose of students obtaining a higher education is for them to learn to adapt in our ever changing world as well as to demonstrate compassion in order to help those around them successfully adapt as well.


Works Cited

Barnett, Ronald. “The Idea of Higher Education.” The Idea of Higher Education, The Society for

Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, 1997, pp. 155–156.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy.” Reading the World,          

2010, pp. 64-65.


Link to google doc: