Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2015
Many people today seem to believe that the main purpose – perhaps the only purpose – of getting an education is to make more money after graduating. Indeed, there is a move afoot to judge the worth of colleges by the salaries of their graduates. This move is motivated in part by unhappiness with the enormous increase in college tuition and the fear that graduates who have acquired large loan debts will be unable to repay them unless they can obtain well-paying jobs. One might say that making a lot of money provides a unity of purpose to aspiring graduates. But making money is not an educational purpose, and it is not what I am referring to when I argue for a unity of purpose.
Feelings run high on the matter of purpose. After an article appeared in the New York Times describing the rankings of colleges by graduates’ salaries published in PayScale.com, two respondents wrote to praise the colleges from which they had graduated (Oberlin and Grinnell) for their low rankings on PayScale. The writers expressed pride on both the high academic rankings of their alma maters and their low rankings on PayScale. One quoted his former history teacher as saying, “Our graduates may not always do well, but they always do good.” One can admire the pride of these writers who have not given way to “money-grubbing” but still sympathize with the many students who have achieved neither financial security nor a sense of becoming somehow a better adult – one who “does good.”
In this book, I concentrate on problems and debates about our high schools. However, disagreements over the purposes of higher education are closely related to those concerning secondary education, and a brief examination of the debate on higher education should be useful. If the purpose of higher education is economic gain, then – in the pursuit of equality – our society must try to prepare all students for college.