Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Rollins College president, Lewis Duncan, in a recent memo to the faculty, used the phrase “the growing educational needs of our students.”

That got me wondering if indeed Rollins students are needier now than in years and decades past, or if there’s simply more now that they need or lack or want which college should provide.

Perhaps the ever-growing cost of college reflects our greater efforts to address these new deficiencies or necessities.

Is it that students now come to college less studious and well prepared and therefore must be remediated intensively so as to graduate with properly elevated skills and college-level knowledge?

Or is it that the world of learning has expanded so rapidly that more academic material must be packed into denser curricula, or that success in post-collegiate life now demands comprehension of more data and disciplines?

Perhaps, more generally, it’s that we now recognize that college has a broader mission to effect in the lives of students than we have formerly assumed. Once there were just two defined categories of collegiate activities: the curricular and the extracurricular. There were academic programs and there were recreational programs in athletics, arts, and leisure pursuits.

Nowadays, a third activity category has developed: the “co-curricular,” which intends generally to address the development of students’ moral and civic character, preparing them to be “responsible leaders” and “global citizens,” particularly through engagement in “service learning” programs and volunteer involvements in off-campus communities and causes.

In this regard, Rollins has recently garnered an award for being a top “engaged college.”

But is there even more neediness in our students still to be addressed, and properly the mission of higher education?

What comes most immediately to my mind is the idea of wisdom, defined (by philosopher Nicholas Maxwell) as “the realization of what is of value, to ourselves and others.”

It may even be said that the highest aim of life and higher education is the attainment of wisdom. In fact, a recent distinguished visiting scholar at Rollins, Copthorne Macdonald, claimed just that in his lecture to the college.

Even though old age is no guarantee of growing wise, our inquiry into what is truly valuable ought to begin in college, if not sooner, for it is the growing need of all of us in this increasingly perilous world to wise up.