Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center tackles one of higher education’s top challenges.

Traditionally, higher education introduced students to life’s most fundamental questions: “What is good?”; “What is true?”; “Do our lives have meaning beyond the material?”; and so on. The focus used to be on developing the whole person: To lift students morally and ethically, to pique their curiosity in all things, and to instill, as cardinal John Henry Newman wrote, certain “habits of mind” that produce a deeply thoughtful individual.

However, over time, those questions have faded into the background due to an increasing focus on obtaining credentials for employment. Savvy students who actively search for something deeper than the next “A” or “B” can usually find what they are looking for by carefully choosing their courses. But the great majority of students consists of those who either desire more from their educations than job credentials—but don’t know how to find it—and those who are unaware of the benefits of having a more meaningful worldview. Such students may be more likely to encounter destructive ideologies than be exposed to true wisdom. Or, perhaps, to remain shallow and lacking direction.

But there is a growing reaction to this failure to provide students with a deeper sense of self and purpose. Organizations are springing up to counter the academy’s abandonment of its traditional mission, to restore true liberal learning—and redirect students’ passions toward creating a more enlightened existence for themselves.