Excelsior College Purpose of College Education Discussion


What is the purpose of a college education? This has been and will continue to be, one of the fundamental questions facing the future of higher education. 

In an article for the New York Times, philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah offers us two models: Is it “utilitarian”- to prepare students for a particular job or career path, or is it “utopian”- shaping students’ character and values to prepare them not just to be good workers, but also good thinkers, good citizens, and positive contributors to our local, national, and global societies?  

In this module, we learned a lot about the value of general education skills, like writing, ethical reasoning, and quantitative reasoning, for students’ current and future career paths. Excelsior’s general education career competencies even include “career” right in the title to emphasize their utilitarian value. But is that the only value of general education? Is that the only value of an education in general? 

Begin by reading Appiah’s article The College Crossroads (Links to an external site.). Then view this excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech “This Is Water” given in 2005 at Kenyon College.

Mosley, CD. (2013). This is Water! by David Foster Wallace (Links to an external site.). YouTube. [Video: 9:22 minutes]. Transcripts.