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Colleges also shape critical thinkers

Aug. 28, 2012 - 11:37AM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 28, 2012 - 11:37AM  |  
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Aside from technical skills, what employers want most are people who can think clearly and critically and who have the ability to listen to others and interact respectfully.

Where do you learn that? College, many say.

Andrew Delbanco, author of the new book "College: What it Was, Is and Should Be," said in an interview on "PBS NewsHour" that the historical function of the American college is to help students not just become competent employees but thoughtful citizens.

Throughout our history, "college wasn't so much an institution for preparing people for the marketplace, but it was an institution for helping them discover who they were," Delbanco says.

For those of you who went straight from high school to the military, college could help you develop civilian communication skills you may not have had a chance to develop within a regimented chain of command.

Of course, if you're out of benefits, you may worry that a college education is pricey and you want to know where it gets you. That is well-placed anxiety, Delbanco says.

But does college have to be either a place where you learn to be a critical thinker, or where you prepare to be a worker with the potential to make a decent living?

"I don't think colleges should be expected exclusively to provide some sort of job-training services, though they should graduate students with competence and with the ability to read and to write clearly and to think and to work hard. But they should also try their best to preserve this space for self-reflection that has been so important to us."

His argument is that the classroom should be a place where students learn, in essence, to get along and respect others.

And such skill and understanding is what employers want.

College graduates earn about 50 percent more than those who have only a high school diploma. And research from such places as the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows people with college degrees make 84 percent more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.

Find a direction that intrigues you. Learn to read and write clearly. Think critically and work hard, but also learn what it means to be a thoughtful citizen and how to handle others with care and respect.

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