In 1852 when John Henry Newman wrote his essay, “The Idea of a University,” he wanted to convey that a University’s purpose was to be able to educate first-rate members of the social order. Newman’s theory, although over a hundred years old, still applies to today’s college students; many are seeking higher educations to not only lead to successful careers, but to also become an improved person in society.
In a time when human endeavor was being redesigned, as industries, philosophies, and sciences were growing and affecting the world, Newman wrote an essay explaining the ideas and goals for seeking a liberal arts education. He states in his thesis that the function of such education, “is that of training good members of society” (Newman, 1852).
Now two questions come to mind about the definition of, “training,” which Newman proposed. Is it preparation for someone to obtain a lucrative profession? On the other hand, is it guidance for someone to develop into an impacting member in the social community? Newman suggests both. He writes, “It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, and an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urge them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of though, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility.” (Newman, 1852). Thus defining a student who has received his degree and is ready to enter a professional field of work, as not only being prepared to perform the work, but also to carry it out at a higher level than expectations were set to. He is a man well, “trained,” to overcome any job related obstacles he may encounter.
“He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonable, when he has nothing to impart himself he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious, and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect.” (Newman, 1852). This establishes an idea that University helps define every individual as a person, and aids in development. To become a personage who can confer with anyone, about any given subject, is one of the aims stated. With those characteristics, one also becomes a friend, a companion that everyone aspires to have by their side.
Today’s high school juniors and seniors apply to hundreds of college and universities a year, but why? What is the purpose of higher education in today’s world? Is it to obtain a degree in hopes of establishing a flourishing career, in order to make money and have a successful, content future? Is it to grow as an individual? On the other hand, is it for something as superficial as being able to attend the parties?
Young men and women choose to further their education with aspirations of achieving the American Dream. However, the American Dream is a vague outline of what everyone wants to be. It is someone who attains this who is an individual established in a thriving career, and has a loving and caring family. It is someone who is socially fit, who does not have to worry about financial troubles. A person who is a friend of many and disliked by few has come across this dream. Finally, the most significant factor to meeting this goal is that a person is pleased with the way life is.
After looking over the mission and vision statements for University of Minnesota, Morehouse College, Evergreen State College, California State University, Thomas Aquinas College, Duquesne University, Drexel University, and Robert Morris College, it seems that the colleges themselves are agreeing with the ideas of Newman. They are establishing a place, where eager minds can go to advance their learning and to search for truth. The schools I examined all focused on Newman’s idea that “It is a great point then to enlarge the range of studies which a University professes, even for sake of the students; and, though they cannot pursue every subject which is open to them, they will be the gainers by living among those who represent the whole circle (Newman, 1852).
Each college provides a variety of schools for a student to be encompassed by. This endows the student a broader horizon of academic majors to choose from. By being surrounded by a variety of different schools, the student is able to benefit more than someone who is dedicated to only one subject. A college that provides a student with the advantage of being educated in an environment could be the deciding factor on why the student would choose that school over several others.
Countless influences go into a person’s decision to attend college. Family plays a considerable role in a child’s decision to obtain further education. It was her fathers stress on education that made Sheena decide to enroll. Family members that helped him realize his goals were attainable through college influenced Andy. Anticipating a family obligation made Carrie seek a liberal arts education. Katie and Greg have both received scholarships for their excellence in track, and football respectively. They hope to be able to combine the competition of sports, and the learning to provide a better education experience. Sean, Dave, and I were brought here by a common interest, a hobby. Our enjoyment and knowledge of computers, along with the aid of a college education, will one day turn a pastime into an enjoyable and highly profitable career.
Despite the many reasons of why students decide to attend college, roughly every person has the same rationale as to why they are here. John Henry Newman was able to put it into perspective, and that is to become, “…good members of society” (Newman, 1852).
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