Discovering oneself and figuring out a purpose should be the focus of higher education.
That was the consensus at a discussion panel about the future of higher education featuring author Andrew Delbanco was held Wednesday night at Staples Hall.
Part of the Speak Up, Speak Out current events series on campus, the conversation panel, titled “College: What Am I Doing Here?!,” discussed how higher education institutions can be changed to ensure a better future for students and for society.
“I think college is a a time to learn not who you are, but who you want to be,” Delbanco said.
Delbanco is the author of “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” a book that examines the shortcomings of the American college system today. He said the first step to improvement is for colleges to start teaching students what it means to be an informed citizen.
“When I started writing my book, I googled the word college and I got hundreds of thousands of hits relating to the word. I started to think we do not have any idea what it means,” he said. “College is a place where you should start to think about these hard questions. It is a place where discussion should be able to grow freely and be undisturbed.”
The discussion panel consisted of Delbanco and three student panelists, Ossineke senior Amberly Dziesinki, Flint sophomore Jasmine Hall and Kinde senior Caitlin Homrich. The panelists responded to questions from the audience of roughly 500 students for mostof the event.
“Seeing so many students from a variety of classes, even freshmen, engaging in these questions like this is invigorating,” Homrich said. “I hope it really influences the incoming class.”
Delbanco focused on what students should get from their educations. He believes students can get the most out of their college experience by focusing on themselves.
“You don’t want to underestimate your power of making college how you want it to be. The great part of education is that it is brought to you by yourself. If you feel your education is being narrowed, you can break it open yourself by taking the classes you want,” he said.
Much of the discussion focused on ideas for reforming American colleges to teach students skills including pushing for more critical thinking skills. Delbanco said critical thinking can be a way to solve major societal issues, like healthcare and climate change.
“I thought it was very thought-provoking, but he did not represent his book very well,” Perry junior Emily Temple said. “He just asked questions rather than giving any real solutions.”
The value of education was also another popular subject in the discussion. As the workforce puts more emphasis on college degrees, the high cost of tuition limits those who can attend college.
Possible solutions for the financial problems posed by the audience included the government regulating tuition costs and the state instituting a more widespread college loan forgiveness program.
“I liked reading Delbanco’s book, but it was really interesting to hear him talk about it himself,” Muskegon sophomore Danielle Stafford said.
In the end, Delbanco said it all comes down to the happiness and needs of a student.
“Students find happiness in different ways. Parents would like their students to have high-paying, respectable jobs, but in the end, they just want their student to be happy,” he said.