Challenging the mission of higher education

My prior post focused on the university mission statements of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Istanbul University. Since then, the issue of what should be the focus of higher education has been the topic of much debate in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has a mission statement, which is part of state law, for the entire state’s university system of four and two year campuses. This mission statement is called the Wisconsin Idea, and as shown in the original text of Source 1. In some ways similar to UW Madison’s mission statement, the Wisconsin Idea places great emphasis on diversity (“a system of higher education which enables students of all ages, backgrounds and levels of income”) and on the importance of searching for knowledge and learning about and sharing ideas across cultures.

Recent controversy over the mission statement for the state’s higher education system came when the office of state governor Scott Walker proposed changes to the mission statement. Also as shown in the changes indicated in Source 1, the proposed changing that cut such language as “serve … society,” “improve the human condition,” and “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” Instead, the changes include adding new language about the need to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” When these changes received attention in the news, the state governor and university officials debated whether the main purpose of higher education should be related specifically to job placement. Governor Walker in defending the proposed changes argued that, “Learning’s important, but ultimately it’s most important for people to get the chance to get the education they need to succeed in the workforce and in life” (Source 2). University officials disagreed and argued that the focus of higher education should be broader and should also focus on increasing knowledge and the values of individuals and of society overall.

At present, Governor Walker has decided to not pursue making the proposed changes because of the negative news that followed the proposed changes. However, the debate that surfaced highlights the competing views that still exist related to what the purpose of higher education should be. How those with decision making ability view this will affect the organization, structure, and content of both coursework and research. While placing graduates in jobs and having faculty research directly relate to growing the economy is important, valuing this above all other factors would largely change how higher education has traditionally been viewed in the U.S. and has the risk of ignoring the other personal and societal growth and benefits related to higher education.

Sources:

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