Briana Walker

Professor Elisha Emerson

English 110 C

1 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 motive that drives this desire varies among these students; however, drawing from personal experience and 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 a higher education is not about just obtaining the necessary skills to secure a well paying job.  To me, the purpose of higher education is for students to understand that adaptive learning and compassion are two of the essential life-long tools for success in the ever changing and complex world in which we reside.

     In today’s world where technology and innovation are advancing at an increasingly rapid pace, a student’s practical purpose at an institution of higher education is to learn the necessary skills to become an adaptive learner. In his work, The Idea of Higher Education, Ronald Barnett believes that in order for a student to truly experience higher learning and grow as an intellectual, they must attend an institution that will “subvert(ing) the student’s taken-for-granted world, including the world of endeavor, scholarship calculation or creativity” (155-6). By turning the students’ worlds completely upside down, the institution of higher education creates an uncomfortable and unfamiliar environment for the student to navigate and adapt to, much like they may have to do in order to find success in their future endeavors both personally and professionally. With my experience at UNE so far, I have already experienced new and uncomfortable situations in both my social life and my classes. In this situation, students, like myself, must use critical thinking skills and problem solving in order to appropriately adjust learning skills to address and deal with the discomfort of a particular situation; however, as Barnett states firmly in his work, “there are no final answers (155-6)”, neither in life nor in higher education. Therefore, the student must always be willing, time and again, to adapt their current knowledge and learning processes in order to make progress with the world around them.

     A student’s social purpose at an institution of higher education is to become a compassionate individual that positively contributes to their community post graduation.   As Martha Nussbaum points out in her work titled, “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy”, the emphasis on liberal arts and humanities in U.S universities, U.S educators say, results in, “the preparation of informed, independent, and sympathetic democratic citizens” (64-5). Well educated, compassionate citizens are invaluable as they not only educate others on how to adapt their learning, especially in times when environments are changing, but also care and advocate for these people during these difficult times.  A current example of this can be seen in the south western part of the United States, where Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc on communities such as Houston, Texas. A large number of individuals, specifically first responders and safety personnel but also community members, have had to employ both their adaptive learning skills and compassion for others to help those affected by this storm successfully survive and cope with the devastation. Whether or not these citizens acquired these skills at an institution of higher learning, they know that in order for themselves and others to survive, they must, “challeng(ing) the mind to become active, competent and thoughtfully critical in a complex world” (Nussbaum, 64-5). By employing these adaptive learning skills and demonstrating compassion for others, the progress and success these people have experienced in their own lives can now filter into the communities and benefit more people at large.


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: