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Many know of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements as a civil rights leader and preacher, but before giving a speech on the Washington Mall, Dr. King wrote an article in his school newspaper about the importance of a college education. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wanted to write about a topic of some debate: the purpose of a college education. As millions of students across the country continue to receive their college decision letters, is a college education worth it?

In high school, students are often told, “You have to do this to prepare for college.” Most schools, teachers and parents portray college as the next logical step. While some students decide to enter the workforce or join the military after high school, millions of students choose to attend college. According to the Bureau of Labor, in October 2015, 69% of high school graduates enrolled in college.

While attending Morehouse College in 1948, an all-male historically black college (HBCU) in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned a piece in the school newspaper The Maroon Tiger titled “The Purpose of an Education”. Dr. King suggests that the intentions people have for their college education may not be what they should expect.

“It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture,” wrote King.

College as a Utility

College as a utility seems pretty practical and self-explanatory. However, there are many nuances to how a college education can be utilized to get your money’s worth. Many people see college as a means to get a good paying job, but King challenges us to see a college education as more than just a degree or piece of paper to get to the next step in life.

“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals,” wrote King.

College offers many tools outside of the classroom such as clubs, competitions, programs, and resources. College also provides a breeding ground for great minds to come together to create new ideas. Some people create ideas so great, they are willing to walk away from a degree to pursue their dreams. People like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates all dropped out of college to pursue their dreams and became successful.

However, that is not the reality for the whopping 44% of students who either drop out or do not receive their college degree. The most common reasons cited for not finishing include rising costs, academic rigor and lack of support.

Dr. King, well-known for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Mall, knows a thing or two about dreams and believes that students should see college as a resource that gives many the knowledge and credentials necessary to unlock their goals.

While the costs of a college education continue to skyrocket, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. If you are wondering if college is for you, it is.


First Lady Michelle Obama, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, knows the power of a college education and wants to empower students to pursue higher education. She implemented an initiative called Reach Higher, which encourages students to pursue an education beyond high school. The initiative aims to increase exposure of opportunities, assist with the financial aid process, encourage academic and summer opportunities and support the high school counselors that help students get into college.

College as a Culture

Dr. King believes that college goes beyond the classroom and extends to the culture. The things one learns outside of the classroom in college prove useful even beyond college.

Attending an HBCU, I experience a unique cultural perspective. I gain confidence in my own skin, learn from professors who care about my academic and personal success, and connect with students from diverse backgrounds. Going off to college is often one’s first long-term experience away from home before entering adulthood. Every college is different, but each campus offers its own unique culture for students to experience.

Dr. King warned us of what could happen if we fail to embrace a broad and complete education that extends beyond intelligence.

“If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.”

Read Dr. King’s op-ed in its entirety here.

Why did you decide to attend college? What do you think should be the purpose of a college education?

I leave you with this famous quote from Dr. King:

“Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”

#StudentVoices #MillennialMondays #MLKDay

By: Kristen Shipley