WRD104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

Sample Contextual Analysis (2nd of three drafts)

The Purpose of College:
Where the Workforce and Intellect Meet

[2nd draft]

“Please give a round of applause to the graduates of 2009”, As soon as students heard this phrase last year it was hardly a blink of an eye before they stepped off that stage and into their first college seminar. From one institution to the next, high school to college with no thought, no questions, no arguments. In this day in age college is simply expected. The number college graduates within the millennial generation are projected to be the highest number in history. In 2008 alone 18.5 million American students will be enrolled in universities, that number is up 13.5 million students in the last twenty years (U.S. Census). But how many of those 18.5 million students stopped to think about their future journey? What lies ahead? What college really meant for them? Most students do not stop to wonder if college is right for them, it is simply expected. But the first question that should be asked is what is the purpose of college? Some would say it is a place to prepare for the work world. Other may state is a place to allow the mind to grow and become its own. The purpose of college is both; it is a place where the work force and intellect meet.

Perhaps, where the problem lies is that while going to college is still completely expected the reasons that students follow through with their collegiate endeavors are varied. Most reasons fall within the idea of “intellect” or “workforce”. This is to say some students may want to explore the fine arts, expand their ways of thinking, see other ways of the world. Others may wish to find their major and work hard to better understand their future field of work. The allure of college is first the allure of job security. This security is the idea that one day after one graduates they will have a high paying job because of their higher education that they invested a minimum of four years of time into. The idea of a financially secure future due to of ones education is enough to create a want within a young person to drive them to college. The idea of workforce starts long before college. In high school students are taught to find out what they want out of their future careers so that they may enter college with a major in mind. The Rhode Island ACT explains this early career driven mindset in their 2009 pamphlet:
College and career readiness is the new measure of educational excellence at the K–12 level. In an increasingly complex, diverse, and technology-driven world, simply earning a high school diploma is no longer enough. High school graduates must be prepared to succeed at the next level. The goal of high school should be clear: to prepare graduates for life after high school by teaching them the skills and knowledge that are essential to college and workforce training readiness (ACT 2).

Students are encouraged to find what they want to do with their lives before they even leave high school. New York Times reporter Kate Zernike argues that once a student chooses college they are immediately encouraged to pick a major to concentrate on a career, Zernike states “even before they arrive on campus, students — and their parents — are increasingly focused on what comes after college. What’s the return on investment, especially as the cost of that investment keeps rising? How will that major translate into a job?” (Zernike 1). The pressure of college and the workforce are the first things students will encounter when they enter a university. From their first day when professors ask “what is your name, where are you from, and what is your major”? This is where the life of a college freshman starts, with the emphasis being put on finding a major for a career.

In recent years it would seem that universities have lost this focus on intellect. Kate Zernike reports that years ago students went to college wanting to expand their minds rather than prepare for a career, “in 1971, 37 percent responded that it was essential or very important to be “very well-off financially,” while 73 percent said the same about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2009, the values were nearly reversed: 78 percent identified wealth as a goal, while 48 percent were after a meaningful philosophy” (Zernike 1). Intellectual expansion has been lost in the wayside in recent years, “when prospective students and their parents visit…they ask about placement rates, internships and alumni involvement in job placement. These are questions…that [were] never heard 10 years ago” (Zernike 1). Kate Zernike was critical of the focus on careers. Zernike argued “students think too much about majors. But the major isn’t nearly as important as the toolbox of skills you come out with and the experiences you have” (Zernike 3).

While students attend college these days for career purposes, the original purpose of a college was to broaden student’s horizons and expand them intellectually. This idea of intellectual broadening was expanded on by Cardinal Newman who engaged in founding the University of Dublin a little over a century ago, “[The University] aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principals…and refining the intercourse of private life” (Kerr 3). Kate Zernike states that this shift has come because of financial reasons, “dropping a classics or philosophy major might have been unthinkable a generation ago, when knowledge of the great thinkers was a cornerstone of a solid education. But with budgets tight, such programs have come to seem like a luxury— or maybe an expensive antique — in some quarters (Zernike 1).” This is to say that students in recent years do not usually see college as a place of growing intellect, this is not only because of work force concentration but also because there are not enough funds to allow classes of leisure learning, only enough to make sure the necessary classes for a degree are taken.

Presently universities are trying to bring education back to intellect rather than a single focus on a career path. This is where the idea of careers and intellect are finally meeting. Educators are now focused on blending intellectual expansion and career concentration. Educators realized that they needed to blend them because while career preparation is necessary for financial stability, “the humanities tend to educate people much farther out. They’re looking for an impact that lasts over decades, not just when you’re 22” (Zernike 3). The problem seems to be that there is now a disconnect between educators and their students. Students do not understand that while career preparation is necessary so are the analytical tools that are taught when expanding their intellect.

Kate Zernike interviewed Dr. Coleman, the president of University of Michigan (a school with a mission to develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future), on bringing intellect and the workforce full circle. Coleman says “’we want to teach them how to make an argument, how to defend an argument, to make a choice.’ These are the skills that liberal arts colleges in particular have prided themselves on teaching. But these colleges also say they have the hardest time explaining the link between what they teach and the kind of job and salary a student can expect on the other end’” (Zernike 3). This is the purpose of college, bringing back the blend of intellect and the workforce.
To illustrate how educators are doing this and example is taken from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “last fall…the career office began integrating workplace lessons into capstone research seminars for humanities majors (Zernike 2).”

At University of Maryland, “career advisers say that colleges and universities need to do a better job helping students understand the connection between a degree and a job. At some institutions, this means career officers are heading into the classroom” (Zernike 2). This blend between intellect and workforce will benefit many. It will benefit employers who will have employees with analytical skills, greater problem solving skills and deeper philosophical thoughts on their work. It will benefit parents who will get more out of their child’s education other than simply shoving them into a job but rather rounding them as a person. It will benefit our nation so that those who will run our country one day will have a broader view of the world and moral reasoning outside of their work.

Above all it will benefit students who will come out to be deeply intellectual people and prepared for the world that will be thrown at them once they graduate.
“Please give a round of applause to the graduates of 2009”, when students hear this they hardly stop to think what the purpose of college and if it is meant for them. With the pressure for a career in recent years it is unimaginable to question the reasons why one would attend college. It seems that it is almost necessary, not only for a career path but also to expand the mind, to let intellect flourish. College allows the two focuses, intellect and career, to blend and allow a student to become a more rounded person. As the students attend college to grow, so will the university itself. As Clark Kerr, the author of The Uses of The University, explains when he speaks of the university as a tower, “the ivory tower of old has become an arm of state and an arm of industry, and the students inside reach out toward the labor market and toward…influence” (Kerr 214).

ACT. Measuring College and Career Readiness. Albany, NY: ACT, 2009. Print.

Kerr, Clark. The Uses of the University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2001. Print.

U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. Census Bureau. College Degree Nearly Doubles Annual Earnings. Census.Gov. U.S. Census Bureau, 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/012084.html>.

Zernike, Kate. “Career U. – Making College ‘Relevant’ – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 17 May 2010. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03careerism-t.html?sq=filter%20information%20students&st=cse&scp=11&pagewanted=all>.