College Allows Students to Create a Worldview for Themselves

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Graduates of Catholic colleges and universities feel that their personal experience in higher education has made them more socially aware and politically active, with a greater sense of purpose in life

In a recent article discussing the benefits of a three-year college degree, The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted a young woman who had transitioned out of her three-year curriculum back into a four-year program. She explained, "I wanted to slow down and enjoy the college experience" (Chronicle 6/13/09 pp. 20-21). Although it is difficult to define the "college experience," we do know it is unique and fulfills the aspirations of many.

I tell new students at our university that they have now entered into a privileged time in their lives. Never again will they, during such a concentrated period of time, encounter so many ideas and so much knowledge shared by some of the most competent and knowledgeable people they will ever find, their university professors. In addition, at most colleges, they will meet and learn with an increasingly diverse population who come with rich ethnic and cultural backgrounds and participate in programs of social development and active team-building.

Students have a unique opportunity to create a worldview for themselves in college by grappling with questions like "Who am I? How do I relate to this world, to the new global system, the new global economy? What will my positions be on important issues? How about my politics? What do I want for my family? Can I change the world, and how do I want to change it? Can I change myself?"

One of the joys of a president is to watch students develop into mature graduates and then to follow their careers as the students become successful leaders. I recently was in correspondence with one such student whom I remember from the first days of my presidency nearly 15 years ago. He was already a student leader, quite enthusiastic and a bit of a jokester, but sure about his future success.

Juan worked through some significant personal issues here at St. Thomas University, yet he took his academics seriously enough to prepare himself for doctoral studies. He received a Ph.D. in international relations and ultimately landed in the Balkans. For awhile he worked in the Office of the International Mediator in Bosnia and then founded the CSSProject for Integrative Mediation, working with leaders in the Balkans to develop sustainable dialogues on integration, non-discrimination and coexistence. In a recent communication to me, he wrote, "My time at St. Thomas awakened in me a sense of responsibility not only for my actions but for the wider community and the less fortunate. It also helped me to understand that there are more important things in life than money, and it instilled a sense of belonging and community."

Juan had learned what Pope John Paul ? in "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" described as primary to the character of Catholic colleges and universities: 'Tn the communion of knowledge, emphasis is then placed on how human reason in its reflection opens to increasingly broader questions and how the complete answer to them can only come from above through faith" (para. 20). Our graduates live that faith!

The fundamental basis of the learning experience of a college education is acquired, integrated knowledge. The integration of knowledge occurs cumulatively in college rather than sequentially as in high school. Pope John Paul II wrote, "While each discipline is taught systematically and according to its own methods, interdisciplinary studies, assisted by a careful and thorough study of philosophy and theology, enable students to acquire an organic vision of reality and to develop a continuing desire for intellectual progress" ("Ex Corde Ecclesiae," para. 20).

Most of our Catholic schools still have a core curriculum emphasizing the liberal arts. …