Dr. Johnetta Cole: What’s the Value of Higher Education?

Dr. Johnetta Cole: What’s the Value of Higher Education?


– I would say that we could get pretty
widespread agreement on what I’m going to
call the first purpose of higher education. And it is through this amazingly
powerful and at times, magical process of teaching and learning. The purpose is for students to come to better understand the world. There might be some
disagreement on what I say is the second purpose of higher education. And that is to inspire
students to figure out how they can contribute to
helping to make the world better. And so I guess in some ways, if I want to be a little
reductionist about this, it’s to say that I think higher
education really is about scholarship but it’s also about service. It’s about creativity and matters of the mind. But it’s also, or at least it should be
about matters of the heart and the soul. I think that throughout the history and herstory of higher education, there’ve
always been doubters, those who have critiqued it. But I do have a concern that in this particular
period in which we are living, at least some polls tell us that many in my country believe that higher education is not contributing in a positive way to American life. That’s something that we need to work on. Those of us who are deeply engaged in and care
about higher education. Because I think when when one looks with as much objectivity as possible, the truth is, and it’s always been this way, that higher education
contributes substantially to American life. It certainly does in terms
of looking at just the pure, the pure facts of what any college or
university contributes to the location in which it sits, whether that’s by
employment or other means. But perhaps most importantly, I think higher education always has, it does now and always must contribute by giving students, whatever is their age, the possibility to soar to the height of that student’s possibilities. It is certainly the case, in my view, that we still need these colleges, that our special mission institutions, historically black
colleges and universities, women’s colleges. Brandeis is a special mission institution, so is Notre Dame, Brigham Young. But in terms of the two that gather students in acknowledgement but
not exclusively this way is admission handle. But students are gathered and their race and
ethnicity is acknowledged. Their gender is acknowledged. I believe strongly that these institutions still have an important place, have an important role to play
in American higher education. Not every African-American wants to or does go to an HBCU. The same is true with women. But for those who wish that kind of education and if the fit is right, it’s almost magical. It’s almost magical. And if you ask why, I think it is because of something as fundamental as having an entire community called a college or university believe that you can. These are not campuses, HBCUs, totally free of racism. A women’s college is
not some kind of utopia where there are no expressions
of gender inequality or sexism. But they come far closer than at our predominantly white and at our co-ed institutions. I’m really saying
something that is so basic. I’m saying on these campuses, we believe that black students can do whatever they set their minds to do. On a women’s campus, we actually believe that women can fly. Fly in the sense of moving to heights that have not
been imagined for women.

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