Google the phrase “purpose of higher education” and you will receive, “about 185,000,000 results.” If you add the words “in today’s society” the number jumps to “about 369,000,000.” Using a couple of other supposedly limiting phrases resulted in equally astronomical numbers, the lowest of which was still over 100,000,000 results. Even allowing for an enormous amount of duplication, it’s clear there are many ideas about the purpose of higher education.
Here at The University of Texas at Austin, we have distilled all of that into one simple and audacious core purpose, “To transform lives for the benefit of society.”
Within the Division of Student Affairs we have purpose and we act on this purpose in a number of ways.
We “connect to strategic goals” to make sure that we are using our time and money well so that all we do supports our purpose.
We “inspire responsibility” in our students and ourselves as we work to ensure that what we do benefits society.
We strive to “engage the campus” since our goal is to transform the lives of everyone connected to this campus.
We ‘”support the core values” of our university because we cannot transform lives for the better if our work is not based in our values.
We “provide service” because everything we do should make our departments, our university, our state and beyond a better place for everyone.
We started working in October of 2013 to achieve one of our strategic action steps – define our Division’s culture of excellence. We have done that through four big words participate, partner, progress and purpose. I’ve used the last few newsletters to share my thoughts about these important ideas. It wasn’t easy to define our culture of excellence, but now comes the most important work. We have defined what we mean by excellence, we have identified ways to act on this definition and now we “just” have to do the work.
I think we are lucky that our university claims such an audacious yet very straightforward goal. When we implement our culture of excellence, the work we do each day, each action we take, and each student we inspire can transform lives. That’s important work. That’s work worth doing. That’s purpose!