The Value of Higher Education: Emory President Claire E. Sterk

At times people really push me to answer the question
what is the value of higher education? And I have learned that sometimes you
shouldn’t be rational when you answer that question. Because I find myself wanting to toss out statistics that
show that there’s tremendous value in higher education. And then I look up and I look at the person sitting across
from me and I realize that’s not what they’re asking. They are asking something that is much deeper, that is,
so what is the meaning, what is higher education going to get me? How do I know that if I have a college degree, my life is
going to be different than if I don’t have a college degree? We live in a society where so many things that we took for granted,
so many things that we were convinced were just right, we knew why we were doing it
and how we were doing it and where it was going to get us. We have lost that as a society.
What an opportunity for a university to not only train its students to start asking those questions, but engage with the broader world. What you need to get out of a college education is
the ability to communicate, the ability to understand. The ability to realize this is the goal
and what’s the best way to get there? We need to think about the fact that what we are
doing at Emory is training leaders for the future, people who have a positive impact on society.
People who understand the value of evidence and debate. You put those together and almost
any conversation can be challenged there. And I am a social scientist, so I try to
understand why do people believe what they believe, what does it mean when people act in certain ways
or have certain perceptions? And I came to the conclusion that we as
institutions of higher education have failed to demonstrate to the rest of the world
why we are important. We have failed to reinforce the fact that we are part of that world;
we are not above that world. We are not watching the world. We need to call the question, not just how do we get better
and better within the indicators that we currently have in place, but how do we ensure that we get better for the future? Because that’s what we need to be part of. And that might
mean calling questions or it will mean calling questions around is the model that we have the right model?
And I’m not sure it is the right model, but I’m not ready yet to be able to frame what the right model would be. But I believe that in the not too distant future
the model of higher education for a place like Emory will change, has to change. It will be disruptive, like change agents are, but it will get us to a better place in terms of the contributions and the value of higher education to society.

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