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What's College For?: The Struggle To Define American Higher Education Paperback – August 20, 1999

3 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Zachary Karabell was educated at Columbia (BA), Oxford (M. Phil.) and Harvard (Ph.D.). He has taught at Harvard University and Dartmouth College, and is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post, The Village Voice, The Nation, Smithsonian, and other publications. He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (August 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091522
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,101,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book asks the titular question "What's College For?", and tries to answer parts of the question from the perspectives of various parties.

This book is not, as I first feared, an opinion piece about what doe-eyed 17-year-olds should extract from their humanities education. Instead, it's the author's attempts to discover and consider opinions on the purpose of college, in the minds of various kinds of people -- society at large, undergrads (both right out of high school or "non-traditional"), grad students, tenured and untenured faculty, and so on.

The book raises many difficult questions, and points out many basic (and worsening) flaws in the US college system, flaws that are, more often than not, never raised in discussions of the system you hear elsewhere.

Karabell's method is to answer the larger question in the title via some smaller bites at it, which you could paraphrase as "what's grad school for?", "what's tenure for (and why are so few people getting it)?", "what're adjuncts for (and why do they get paid slave wages)?", "what's the history department for?", "what's research for?", "what is undergrad education for?", etc.

The point of this book is that the parties involved often have very different, even contradictory answers to these questions, reflecting different goals about every aspect of college in the US. The book succeeds in establishing this very important point, as well as in suggesting that the current situation requires readjustment (with there being multiple ways to readjust it, not just one big answer that'll suit everyone), so that everyone (undergrads, grad students, adjuncts, and faculty of various kinds) gets at least some of their goals fulfilled.
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