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The Purpose of Higher Education in the United States

Over the years, the purpose of higher education has been a debate in the United States. Experts have differed over the issue, with the changing world and the evolution of the economy and the skills that people need for business success. Traditionally, higher education played the role of being a platform that ensured fruitful contribution in character and mental development of students. In recent years, however, the main focus has shifted towards the preparation of students for their careers. In the older days, the various stakeholders in the education industry focused on providing students with a conducive environment for learning and character development. Today, these stakeholders are mostly focusing on ensuring that students focus on their career development and the enterprise aspects of higher education. Higher education has become largely commercialized, where schools focus more on the creation and development of innovations and products that can be sold for financial gains. While some people believe that higher education institutions should focus on holistic student development, others believe that the commercialization of education is the way to go. The commercialization of higher education should not negatively affect student development and other roles of higher education.

The Changing Role of Higher Education Institutions

As Rand et al. (176) explain, most higher education institutions in the United States have shifted their attention towards the development of inventions and innovative products for commercial purposes. Universities and colleges today focus on developing innovations and conducting research to come up with improved products that can be sold. The traditional focus of educational institutions on the preparation and education of students has largely shifted (176). The authors explain that the focus on commercialization could pose a danger to the development and future achievement of students, as institutions allocate a larger portion of resources, including experts, to research and innovation for commercial purposes. The education sector continues to experience changes across the world, with changes in technology, the economy, industrialization, and student needs.

Cost pressures and technological advancement continue to change how people view higher education and its role (Rand et al. 176). Today, students and industry are demanding high-quality education at a lower cost. They also have unlimited access to higher education institutions across the world. This has resulted in many universities and colleges facing the threat of losing students to other institutions that can provide quality education at an affordable cost (176). To remain viable, institutions have resulted in various methods of generating income to enable the provision of quality education at a low cost. The authors discuss the various ways by which value in higher education is measured today, and the ways by which education institutions have adapted to remain viable to students. The focus on the commercialization of products and inventions has resulted in partnerships between industry and universities. It has also positively affected the relationship between the government and the education sector. However, the focus on commercialization poses the threat of students not being well prepared for their careers and may result in the credibility or qualification of graduates being questioned.

Higher education institutions need to focus on improving the value of higher education while adapting to changes in technology and cost pressures (Rand et al. 180). The value of education should not be measured only in ways that consider the cost or career outcomes of students. The value of education should be measured in ways that take into consideration the career outcomes of students while focusing on the individual and societal transformation achieved through the provision of higher education (Rand et al. 181). Higher education institutions should avoid focusing only on the development and commercialization of products and innovations, but also focus on the holistic development of students. According to Rose (5), the traditional objective of higher education institutions in the United States was to ensure that students were well prepared for learned professions or careers. However, this objective has changed over the years. Today, a majority of the activities that these institutions are involved in are research and innovation. Faculty specialization and research are the main activities that higher education institutions are involved in today (5).

Even though different universities and colleges have different aims and objectives, their primary aim traditionally was to teach students in the occupational fields, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to obtain jobs. During their learning, students engage in extracurricular activities that develop their mental and social skills development (Schwind and Jasna 50). This way, students can acquire interpersonal skills and establish useful connections that may contribute to their career development. Higher education institutions were able to provide holistic development and learning to students while addressing industry needs through research and development. It is the role of higher education institutions to provide solutions to industry problems and needs through inventions and continuous innovation. However, this should not result in the neglect of the education role. There are also roles such as providing mentorship to graduates and professionals, selection of high achieving students to pursue degree programs, as well as the management of various clubs and educational organizations (Kuh 52).

Universities and colleges today require students to reach out to industrial partners and work together with them to solve community and industrial challenges. Students work with the community and industry partners to develop semi-professional teams that work towards innovation and inventions. Such teams often come up with products that solve challenges in industries and society, resulting in the patenting of discoveries and inventions (Kuh 52). For instance, research universities for hospitals engage students in research involving drugs and diseases. The students are also involved in the running of tertiary care hospitals. All these roles are conducted by universities besides the role of providing education and guidance to students. A collection of these functions is the purpose of higher education institutions. Increased strain on the limited resources available to educational institutions and an increased need to cut down costs have pushed universities and colleges towards an increased focus on the commercialization of research and innovations, a shift that has resulted in increased university-industry linkages.

It is the role of higher education institutions to produce graduates that are capable of contributing to societal development and industry. Besides preparing students for professions and jobs, higher education institutions also prepare students for entrepreneurship (Davey et al. 171). Higher education plays a very important role in the creation of employment opportunities, development of new employers, and increasing wealth in the society. Georgia provides a good example of a state that has largely benefitted from higher education institutions. Currently, the state is the 10th largest economy in the United States. According to Schwind and Jasna (92), various factors have contributed to the growth of the economy, including the investments made by donors and state leaders. These donors and leaders are mostly from educational institutions such as Emory, Georgia State University, and the University of Georgia. Higher education institutions should strive to fulfill all their roles and responsibilities without focusing on one while abandoning the other. As various authors note, the concerns of increasing cost pressures and the quality of programs offered in the country must be addressed to ensure the credibility of programs and to ensure that students are well prepared for the industry when they graduate. These concerns should not negatively affect the purpose of higher learning in the country.


The question of the role of higher education institutions has been present for many years. In the United States, many higher education institutions today are focusing on the commercialization of innovations and research. The commercialization of education mustn’t affect the purpose of pursuing individual development and instilling knowledge and competence in students. Education institutions must contribute to the resolution of industry problems. However, the engagement in research for innovation purposes should not hinder the other roles of higher education.

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The Purpose of Higher Education in the United States . (2022, October 10). Essay Writing . Retrieved March 28, 2023, from https://www.essay-writing.com/samples/the-purpose-of-higher-education-in-the-united-states/
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The Purpose of Higher Education in the United States [Internet]. Essay Writing . 2022 Oct 10 [cited 2023 Mar 28]. Available from: https://www.essay-writing.com/samples/the-purpose-of-higher-education-in-the-united-states/
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