Phi Beta Cons

The Big Picture: Two Conflicting Visions of Higher Ed

Too often, conversations about higher education and how to (or whether to) reform it immediately get down into the weeds. But how one perceives the policies and details should depend on some sort of all-encompassing vision of higher education and its purposes; without that, suggestions for reform, or defenses of the status quo, can just be a series of incongruent ideas that will inevitably produce an academic “platypus.”

Higher education may at time seem to be just such an absurd being, but there is in fact a broad vision behind it. It is a liberal vision, in the modern sense, of higher education as a vehicle of change and as a democratic institution, featuring open access and a wide array of student choices, out of which will come a great diversity of intellects. That vision is ably articulated on the Pope Center site by Eric Johnson, a young writer whose day job is in the financial aid office at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Additionally, in Part II of this debate, I provide a counter-vision of higher education, a conservative one that suggests that higher education is “a particular institution that fills particular needs and has particular limitations,” and that educations must be carefully crafted to raise young minds to their loftiest potentials.

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