From the President: Citizen leadership is a crucial part of education

Posted by Centre News in News 03 Jan 2016

In his latest column for The Advocate-Messenger, Centre College President John A. Roush writes about the commitment to educating tomorrow’s leaders.  He is a regular contributor to professional journals in the areas of leadership, governance and finance in higher education, and intercollegiate sport.roush

As a college president, I continue to be concerned about the business model of higher education, along with rising costs and debt loads. At the same time, I am equally focused on assuring that the return on investment (ROI) when choosing to pursue a college education is worth the cost, and that the ROI benefits not only the graduates themselves but also the communities where they live and work.

All of which begs a few questions.

Should we expect more of a college education than a piece of paper and a job? Should we expect more of our graduates?

My answer is an emphatic “yes” to both.

I talk often of Centre College’s vision to serve students by preparing them for extraordinary lives of work and service. Increasingly, I add to this aspiration that they be citizen-leaders who see their lives as an adventure—and on a global level.

Since our student body is international and an average 85 percent of our students study abroad, I encourage them all to be proud of their respective nations, all the while understanding that their lives will involve crossing borders of language and culture. We hope that after four years of study and travel, Centre graduates are able to approach these adventures with confidence, sensitivity and maturity.

This is a tall order for sure. However, I believe this outlook is necessary for success in a world that seems to grow smaller at the same time that it grows more complex.

Sadly, the context for this viewpoint has grown increasingly urgent with the rise of those men and women who chose to do evil on such a sinister and devastating scale.

Our nation and the ever-more-connected world is demanding men and women who face—unafraid and undaunted—the challenge of understanding and respecting different languages, cultures and faith traditions.

Citizen-leaders in all walks of life who have had experience with this kind of difference through study abroad provide an important foundation to meet this demand. Even more, those students who have been part of an educational community of teacher-scholars who have encouraged and guided them in discovering how they can fit and lead and serve in such situations are in an even stronger position to succeed.

So it is that Centre College decided some many years ago, in 2002, to take the lead in preparing its students for lives of work and service on a global level. Our Centre Commitment—which guarantees graduation in four years, at least one study abroad experience and an opportunity for an internship or undergraduate research—is now in its 13th year, and we have clear evidence that our attempt to create an educational culture that encourages and launches young people in this planned-for direction has been and is successful.

As such, it is not accidental that Centre’s study abroad program is regularly selected as the best in the nation. Neither is it accidental that our students compete successfully for postgraduate awards that take them to work experiences outside these United States.

But even more than rankings accolades is the satisfaction gained when I talk to our alumni, whether they’ve graduated recently or in decades past, about how this educational focus on citizen leadership has had an impact for good. I am delighted to hear similar stories from fellow college presidents across the nation about sister institutions large and small, public and private.

Centre College will continue to be a place that takes measured risk with the academic program on a global level so that our students—those from Kentucky and our nation and, increasingly, from around the world—are offered an intellectual experience focused on rigor and performance and creativity for a greater good.

It’s a challenge I extend to colleges everywhere. If we are to continue our success in preparing graduates for extraordinary lives of work and service on a global level, we have no choice but to take the highest aim.

by President John A. Rosh
December 29, 2015

This article originally appeared in The Advocate-Messenger.