Rhetoric from policy makers may focus on the need to ensure that college graduates are competitive in the workplace, but students, faculty members, and others engaged in higher education take a more expansive view of the value of a degree, a new report from the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute suggests. College, they said, shouldn’t be just about picking up job skills but should expose students to new ideas and diverse fields and should encourage critical thinking.
The findings come from 115 public forums organized across the country by the nonprofit groups to discuss the future of higher education. Although open to the public, the sessions attracted disproportionate numbers of people in higher education—four in 10 participants were students and one-fifth were faculty members.
Forum participants diverged from elected officials and higher-education experts in several other key areas: While policy makers often discuss the rising cost of a college education, higher-education constituents are at “a very early stage of their thinking on this issue,” the report says. And while policy makers often focus on community colleges and competency-based education, few people who came to the forums brought them up.
The report, “Divided We Fail: Why It’s Time for a Broader, More Inclusive Conversation on the Future of Higher Education,” isn’t the first attempt to take the pulse of the American public on higher education. Earlier public-opinion surveys have found that Americans value a college education but are increasingly anxious about its cost.