For most of the recent national discussion about the benefits and disadvantages of going to college and whether studying humanities online is the same was studying it at a brick and mortar university but, the core motivation for a college experience revolves around money. But in all of this debate about the economics of a college education, a vital aspect of education is lost. Namely, does college create an open and innovative environment that allows students to question their world? Is a college degree something that asserts qualification for well paying jobs, or is it a mark of experience – expansive exploration of humanity.
Advanced education often provides the opportunity for young men and women to meet the types of people they might never have met in their own hometowns. This is even more likely in new online programs. Despite being in their nascent stages, online school programs are attracting students from all over the world.
Traditional universities were known as accepting of different races, religions, sexual orientations and political values and in fact sought out individuals who might add to the broad cultural spectrum. Students were enabled to learn by directly experiencing other cultures. The open mindedness caused by such exposure is not focused on as much as it used to be, and students feel more and more pressure, resulting in less exploration and an increasingly myopic viewpoint.
Citing an early but important critical study on the effects of college on the character of its alumni, How College Affects Students, State University relays that college increases students’ “non-authoritarian thinking and tolerance for other people and their views, in intellectual orientation to problem solving and their own worldview in general, in the maturity of their interpersonal relations, in their personal adjustment skills and general sense of psychological well-being, and in their more globally measured levels of maturity and personal development” The same study also notes that the early years of college are more important to this kind of development than later years.
Citing various studies conducted by independent groups on the relation between college and the perception of LGBT people, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that colleges are breeding grounds for changes in attitudes towards homosexuals, overwhelmingly in a positive and more tolerant direction. They note several reasons for this, such as how “students who enter college with negative attitudes toward sexual diversity, contact through casual acquaintances, work settings, and classmates helps students re-examine the stereotypes and false assumptions that often serve as a foundation for these negative attitudes.” The same report also notes that the type of critical thinking that occurs in the classroom helps students to expand their outlook, since those “inclined toward cognitive complexity are more likely to be accepting of sexual diversity.”
These are the types of benefits from a college education that go toward making the world a better, more tolerable and tolerant place. President Obama told the graduating class of 2010, in his commencement speech at Hampton University: “Now that your minds have been opened, it’s up to you to keep them that way. And it will be up to you to open minds that remain closed that you meet along the way. That, after all, is the elemental test of any democracy: whether people with differing points of view can learn from each other, work with each other, and find a way forward together.” In an increasingly quantitative and technical world, it is easy to forget the qualitative benefits of higher education. As such, it will become increasingly important to emphasize the importance of the latter.