Thinking About “The Question”

As someone who has been involved with adult education for 13 years, I’ve been faced with this question many times, “What will this degree do for me?” The person who asks this question wants to know what skills he will acquire that will lead to a better paying and perhaps even more fulfilling job. This is an honest question, and if you’re a prospective student, Belhaven’s admission representatives are eager to provide the information you’re looking for. However, let me challenge you a bit. What if the answer to your question could be enhanced by asking a different question – a question that’s driven more by a transformational view of education than a purely vocational view? Here’s what I mean.

Arthur F. Holmes, in his book The Idea of a Christian College, implies that to ask “What will this degree do for me?” is to ask the wrong question. Rather, a prospective student should ask “What will this degree do to me?” To frame the question this way means that the prospective student understands the difference between transformational education and education that merely produces vocational skills. Transformational education provides a broad yet integrated view of the world that changes a person to the extent that her influence on her family, employer, church, and community is pervasive and far reaching. Degree programs that focus primarily on the equation that more skills equal a better paying job are short-sighted in that they fail to realize that skills have a short shelf life and fade quickly into obsolescence.

Consistent with Holmes’ view that the liberal arts are the best type of career preparation, Belhaven University’s adult and graduate studies programs provide an expanded offering of general education courses combined with professional curricula that transform students to think broadly and critically in an ever changing and complex world. At Belhaven, occupational know-how (as Holmes put it) is undergirded by courses that develop cognitive and communication skills, imagination, and values – all of which, according to Holmes, are the products of a strong liberal arts (and thus transformational) education.

I suppose that prospective adult students will continue to ask “the question,” and that’s okay. If you desire to return to college, any admissions team worth its salt will work to answer all of your questions. I know we will. There are measurable benefits for those who earn a college degree – no doubt! But you will sell yourself short if, as you explore your options, you fail to consider which college or university’s programs are best designed to transform its students. Only as students are personally transformed by their education will the value of their degree outlast any short-term gains produced by a new skill set.