dictionary.reference.com defines the term “university” as meaning
“an institution of learning of the highest level.”
In regards to the deeper examination of the notion of higher education itself, this can be viewed as a very apt and fitting definition in many senses. The concept of college, university, and the umbrella that encompasses higher education in general is perpetuated by the notion that all such institutions are driven by the concept that everything that they do, teach, implement, or aim to produce is done at the “highest level” attainable. In a bare view, this can be interpreted as providing the highest attainable academic depth of education for students in various fields and trades. However, this pursuit of education at the highest level is often incorporated into things not shown on a report card or revealed within a raw GPA. Often the most distinct and diversifying aspects of American universities are the ones that emphasize how students are being impacted beyond the bookstore or scantron sheet. College/higher education is not only a turning point in the lives of many young adults in terms of their professional and academic careers, but is also a pivotal time in determining what kind of human being an individual will transform into in their adult lives. Through making substantial and intentional strides to emphasize the development of the virtues, character, and citizenship in the modern student, institutions of higher education are able to directly impact the makeup of the society that will be leading the world of tomorrow.
Virtue. In an essence, the piece of a person that defines the nature of their being and the moral compass off of which they operate. Not everyone’s compass is the same, and part of college is allowing students to discover which ways theirs point, in which ways they will allow them to be impacted, and in which ways they will staunchly fight to firmly keep them. The virtue of a person will impact every major decision they make, how they treat others, and even what path they choose to follow throughout their life/career. By creating a culture that values WHAT kind of person you are as opposed to simply what you accomplish AS a person, universities have the opportunity to dispatch people of value as well as people who have values of their own out into the world they desire to change.
Character. The strength, depth, and determination of character one possesses is often praised as one of the most critical aspects of what makes a truly great worker and professional peer. Once personal virtue is established, it is the resolution to uphold that same virtue that gives birth to true force of character. Establishment of true character fuels respect, trust, reliability, and a number of other key relational aspects that are in high demand in any working relationship or dynamic between human beings. By giving students real world examples of professional character and integrity through careful selection of instructors, staff, and other mentors, universities have the opportunity to provide a first hand illustration for students on what steadfast belief and commitment to personal ideas mean in a world that is perpetually flippant.
Citizenship. The idea that not only do individuals hold responsibility for themselves personally, but that they have a higher responsibility to an idea and structure greater than simply the individual. Citizenship means knowing that you as an individual possess a sense of greater belonging than you can fathom, and that your identity can be impacted by what you are a citizen of just as easily as you can impact the identity of the greater body itself. It means that you understand what path of trial, tribulation, and triumph your body of allegiance has undertaken to arrive at the point you are currently connecting with it, as well as the role one plays in writing the very future path of that same body. In chapter six of his book “A Letter to America,” OU president David Boren includes an assertive quote from Bruce Cole, stating that “defending our democracy…also requires an understanding of the ideals, ideas, and institutions that have shaped our country…and why our country is worth fighting for.” By emphasizing the critical need for not only a bold sense of belonging but also a passionate awareness of the past, present, and future that impacts that belonging, universities have the opportunity to produce students not only proud of being a citizens of a nation, but students that a nation would be proud to have as citizens.
These arguably intangible although timelessly relevant aspects of education have been a topic of discussion practically since the formation of such institutions themselves. From the earliest days of “finishing” young people to produce the best possible members of high society to the present day of bearing the burden of molding the world’s future leaders, problem solvers, and innovators in a world of persistent need, aspects of the human condition itself have been an integral component of higher education. In the words of William Bizzell taken from his 1933 convocation, “it is reasonable to assume, in the light of what is happening today, that the world into which you will go after your graduation will be vastly different from what it is today.” Although it a practical sense I would argue that the main mission of higher education in its most concrete nature remains the task of educating students in the practical fields necessary to be properly equipped to step into more complex areas of the workforce, this persistent, personal aspect cannot be ignored. While trades, facts, and figures may continue to evolve and change throughout the student educational experience, some so rapidly to the point where they can be almost rendered obsolete by the time of graduation, the personal areas of growth and discovery prompted and fostered through the higher education system will not fade no matter how the outside world transforms.