By Susan O’Connor
Higher education is often viewed as separate from the public arena, something accessible to a few and beneficial to only the individual. However, higher education greatly impacts the public good, and that impact is the true mission of higher education. In transforming individuals, we transform our communities and our world.
In this era of globalization, individualism seems to serve little purpose. Preparing children to live in a global society is essential and should begin in the K-12 years. Higher education then is a continuation of that learning and a time to step out into the world. With this in mind, while higher education does serve the individual, the larger goal is the influence each individual will have on the greater public good.
The impact of higher education is increasingly more visible and far reaching. More frequently, civic engagement has become part of higher education curriculum. The need for students to see and experience a more seamless connection to their acquisition and application of knowledge is essential. Knowledge is not only something centered in higher education institutions; it is also something constructed and exercised within the community. Knowledge then becomes transformative not only to the individual but to the broader community, society, and world. This is increasingly being seen through civic engagement projects such as Public Achievement, service learning, and travel abroad experiences where students and faculty “develop agency” through active rather than passive means that, in turn, inform theory and future practice.
SUSAN O’CONNOR is an associate professor of education at Augsburg College.