Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Purpose of College: Integrative Literature Review

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Purpose of College: Integrative Literature Review

Article excerpt


In the last three columns, developmental education faculty debated mandatory attendance policies, examined student views on mandatory attendance policies, and presented research findings on student perspectives on reasons for attending college. This article continues that dialogue as an integrative literature review of higher education's purpose. Beginning with an overview of the literature and discussion of findings, it is intended to provide a theoretical framework for the phenomena, as well as inform practice among faculty and administrators regarding possible rationale for college attendance. The author concludes that evolving themes in the literature do not overtly note the real purpose of higher education and presents a stronger conceptual framework to categorize college purpose - to increase physical, economic, financial, social, cultural, human, and/or intellectual capital.

In recent issues of Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, faculty debated mandatory attendance policies in developmental education courses (Higbee & Fayon, 2006), researched the student view of mandatory attendance policies (Higbee, Schultz, & Goff, 2006), and then provided holistic insight regarding why students initially choose to attend college (Schultz & Higbee, 2007). The purpose of this column is to provide a critical examination of the literature on college purpose, investigate the usefulness of these rationales, and provide an additional contemporary conceptual framework of the phenomena for practice.

The intention of this is to give a fresh look at the literature and provide contemporary perspectives and propose for understanding the diversity of attendance rationales. The goal is to contribute added insight and depth regarding college participation with the intentions of informing pedagogy for faculty and practice for administrators and developmental education professionals. The impetus for this article is grounded in the incongruence among philosophical viewpoints for the existence of higher education.

In reviewing the literature, philosophical and research perspectives are dominated with why students choose specific colleges, why they leave, why they stay, and even why they return after they leave. Yet, little information or insight exists on the questions central to this article: What is the purpose of higher education? And, subsequently, why go to college? This article is divided into five parts; a problem statement, literature summary, conceptual framework, professional implications, and conclusion. In short, the first half is a literature review, and the second half offers a conceptual framework.

Problem Statement

The purpose of higher education is complex, both historically and in contemporary contexts, and the lack of one central empirically refutable theory for college purpose escalates this ambiguity. In reviewing the related literature, there is an abundance of research in economics, sociology, psychology, and education on reasons people should attend college and the benefits of having attended college. This research is informative; however, in the author's opinion, it does not adequately answer the question "Why go to college?" The answer to this question is particularly significant for many stakeholders: high school counselors, faculty, parents, college admissions officers, and students.

This article first explores the literature in search of the purpose of higher education; then the author presents a discussion and synthesis of possible reasons for attending college, developing a conceptual framework for understanding the phenomena.

Literature Summary on College Purpose

The purpose of higher education has varied by historical context. Plato wrote of the Greek stance as having five elements: (a) a sense that what ordinarily counts as "knowledge" is contaminated, (b) the possibility to see through the conventional knowledge of appearances to a new realm of unchanging knowledge, (c) the way forward lies in criticism of conventional knowledge through a process of dialogue involving the learner, (d) students critically examine the knowledge acquired, and (e) education is connected with the idea of freedom through critical inquiry and critical reason (Barnett, 1990, p. …

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