What and Who Is College For?

Last month’s message (Being Who We Are and Proud of It) prompted a number of responses, particularly to my point that we should stop worrying about who we are not and instead focus on who we are. “Damn scrappy and proud of it” as a descriptor of us was especially popular. This month, I want to build on the theme of identity confusion by exploring what and who college is for. Back in my graduate school days, one of my core courses was a doctoral seminar on the history of higher education. Evoked on the first day was a quote from John Henry Newman from his seminal 1852 book, The Idea of a University:

If then a practical end must be assigned to a university course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world.

The professor went on to drum into us that this was a defense of the liberal arts and of learning for its own sake. As an economics and English undergraduate from a college of arts and sciences, this resonated. Yet, perhaps because economics is sometimes found in a business school, it didn’t fully sit well, also in part because until 1944, mostly people of means went to college, and in light of other historians of higher education, most notably John Thelin, who had this to say in his 2004 book, A History of American Higher Education:

Going to college was not a prerequisite to the practice of the learned professions. Learning often took place outside the academy in various forms of apprenticeship. So why did people attend college? It was about prestige, status, and civic leadership/power.


After World War II and the game-changing GI Bill, college enrollments exploded with young adults of varying means, solidifying the notion of “college” as something they needed to do after high school if they were to have access to the best opportunity. Thankfully, a boom in post-war babies that extended to the early 1960s, and Sputnik, provided the post-GI fuel that kept the traditional-aged pipeline flowing, at least for a while.


There is an obvious reason why continuing one’s education right after high school makes sense. Yet, as the President and I have said, that is not the growth opportunity—adults are. As I write this piece (Sunday, October 30), 40 percent of our total student body is enrolled in WP Online, with an average age of approximately 35 for undergraduates and about the same for graduates. Two-and-a-half years ago, it was 0 percent. Although I have no statistics to prove it, that’s likely the fastest growth of adult students of any New Jersey institution, perhaps one of the fastest in the country. Simply put, the model is working, we are in a lucrative growth market given the density of our area, and we are negotiating with our external partner to strengthen our return.


The emergent terrain, however, is expanding our portfolio of for-credit and not-for-credit offerings that are something less than a degree. Adults without a degree want one, but they also want something of shorter length that serves a distinct purpose—to stay current in their job, to expand their marketability, to change fields, to contribute in new ways to slowing global warming, to combat illiteracy, to counter social media misinformation, to make the world more equitable and just. While such things do come in degrees, they can be through alternative or micro-credentials, and come in different forms, typically badges or certificates. We are not neophytes to these things here at WP, but we need to expand into this space purposefully and expeditiously, and the Strategic Plan is the means of getting there. Resources, such as those from the Council for Credential Innovation and other institutions that are leading on this front, can guide us. And, there’s opportunity for both academic and non-academic units to be involved and in alignment with national career ready competencies. On December 1 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m, we are participating in a national webinar entitled, Micro-Credentials and Badges 101: The Essential Foundational Blocks to Initiate & Build a Successful Program, with one of the leaders in this space, the University at Buffalo (SUNY). More information to come and anyone in the University community is invited to attend.

Academic News

Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program. Departments are invited to consider an application for a pre-doctoral fellow hire. This innovative program seeks to diversify our faculty, an important effort of the University in support of the diversity of our student body. For more information, visit the Provost’s Office website. Departmental applications are due November 17 to their Dean.


Wellness Day Success. The first annual Wellness Day experience was a success, and a good foundation on which we can build for next year. The sessions were all thoughtfully planned and executed, with practical insights and benefit embedded in all of them. Thank you to the planners and presenters who made the day possible, and enjoy the harvest displays on Speert Green.


What Works Conference, Monday, December 12. The Committee received a range of excellent proposals, with plans to make selections shortly, as well as to put together some exciting invited sessions. Details will be posted to the Provost’s Office website.


First-Gen Sticker Receivers. If you were one of the more than 100 faculty and staff who requested a First Gen sticker as a former first gen in college yourself, let the Provost know if/how it may have prompted any conversations.

Fact and Figures

72 percent. The percent of U.S. workers who agree that alternative credentials are an affordable way to gain the skills or experience necessary to enter a new job.


77 percent. The percent of U.S. workers who agree that having a job-relevant alternative credential increases or would increase their chances of being hired for a job.


68 percent. The percent of U.S. workers who currently hold an alternative credential that believe earning it has helped them progress in their careers.


Source: Making Alternative Credentials Work: A New Strategy for HR Professionals (2022). Another informing resource on this topic: Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials (2021).


“Wellness Days were so appreciated! Thanks so much for building it into the calendar.”

— Student Government Association.


“There are so many stereotypes about intelligence and ability, who has it and who doesn’t. There are many fewer about who can improve and develop.”

— Dr. Mary Murphy, Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University and founder of the Equity Accelerator.

The Provost’s Office is Lissette, Claudia T., Claudia C., Jonathan, Kara, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 • provost@wpunj.edu

Office of the Provost | 973.720.2122 | provost@wpunj.edu