What Does College Mean for Nonprofits?



In a time of great economic turmoil in the United States (and in the world), almost every aspect of society is being re-examined for its contribution to the progression of individuals. Recently, I came across an article in the New Yorker Magazine, that brought up the question of the value of college in today’s world. Is it a social experience? Is it to get young people a job? Or is it something in between? Or is it to “educate” in the most basic of the sense, to broaden the mind?

A lot of confusion is caused by the fact that since 1945 American higher education has been committed to both theories. The system is designed to be both meritocratic (Theory 1) and democratic (Theory 2). Professional schools and employers depend on colleges to sort out each cohort as it passes into the workforce, and elected officials talk about the importance of college for everyone. We want higher education to be available to all Americans, but we also want people to deserve the grades they receive.

While dropping some books that have touched on this quiet debate (because really when we debate education in America its not about the quality/merits/purpose its always about “everyone going to college”), such as “From the Basement of the Ivory Tower” & “Academically Adrift”, the article brings up many theories about the purpose behind our greatest institutions. In the debate is also brought up the “tracking” that is done in education in countries like Britain and France, and could it work in America.

My concerns are many for college – and not just for the nonprofit sector. Can we shift this paradigm of expectations of college being a “job punching ticket” and social parties to something more meaningful such as broadening the world’s of students? In relation to work, could you not be a better employee or professional if you knowingly could jump from one business model to perhaps teaching or lobbying?

The place for nonprofits, in a larger context than majors in college, might be determined how student’s are educated. Should the nonprofit sector, which takes a majority of its workers from other majors and minors than nonprofit studies, be more concerned about the state of higher education than we let on?

I for one worry that with college becoming more shoved down students throats as their only option after high school, tracking so many of them into one type of job-readinesses programs, and less preparing students for life-time learning, the nonprofit sector will lose more than others.



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