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Institutions of higher learning identify themselves first and foremost as educational institutions. But, what does it mean to be an educational institution? What is education? In order better to understand the meaning of education, it is helpful to compare it to another valuable activity in which institutions of higher learning typically engage, training.

The noun “training” derives from the verb “train.” To train is to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary). Training focuses on how to do a job. It is related more to practice, though it is based on theory. For example, training is prevalent in programs of nursing, teaching, counseling, accounting, athletic training, etc.

The noun “education” derives from the verb “educate.” To educate is to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically, especially by instruction (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary). Education focuses on furnishing the mind. It is related more to theory, though it results in practice. It involves learning a discipline and setting it against the background of the knowledge of Western civilization. It is grounded in the humanities, mathematics, and the sciences.

All disciplines have an educational component. In addition, all disciplines either have a training component (e.g., nursing or business) or provide the foundation for training that occurs in a different or related discipline (e.g., English or history). Education, then, may include training, but training must include education. Both training and education are important, but while not all university students will receive training, all students must get an education. Education must have priority, for there cannot be excellent training without excellent education.

While there will always be a tension between the need to educate and the desire to train at a university, one should not accept the proposition that one must choose one pole or the other. Both education and training are important and both are fundamental to the modern university. Nevertheless, education must be primary. For example, a university’s general education component must take pride of place.

Education, in general, and the general education component, in particular, pursues a critical goal: the development of fully integrated individuals who are able to think critically and soundly. Put another way, education is the means by which students develop a view of the world from which they can interpret all of life, a lens through which they can clearly see and understand life. In other words, educators seek to cultivate people that are truly human.

To be sure, education is more that the courses that compose a university’s general education component. Rather, education forms the foundation a university. Through education, university faculty seek not only to teach students how to make a living, but more importantly, how to live. Education equips them to formulate judgments about and make positive contributions to the key forces of cultural influence in our time.

So, universities must pursue excellence in training. They must strive to have excellent professional programs. But, they especially must pursue excellence in education. This pursuit is dictated by a university’s mission. It is what draws teachers to a university, in order to fulfill their vocation. And, it is what gives teachers hope as they gladly continue the sacrificial service of investing their days in the lives of the students with which they have been entrusted.

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