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Personal and Social Responsibility

Students and campus professionals agree on goals such as social responsibility and striving for excellence, but don't believe their institutions do enough to promote those values.

More than 50 percent of the respondents to a survey intended to gauge whether personal and social responsibility were important values on the nation’s college campuses said they “strongly agree” that they were.

Five elements of responsibility—personal and academic integrity, striving for excellence, contributing to the community, respecting the perspectives of others, and learning ethical and moral reasoning—should be a major focus at their institutions, said the respondents, who included students, faculty and academic professionals.

When “strongly agree” and “agree somewhat” responses are combined, there is an overwhelming consensus (over 90 percent) that these dimensions should be a major focus of a college education. Cultivating personal and academic integrity received the most support, with 70 percent of students and 90 percent of campus professionals indicating that they “strongly agree” that it should be an important institutional focus.

The Personal and Social Responsibility Institutional Inventory (PSRII) was conducted in fall 2007 by the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, on behalf of the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ initiative, “Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility.”

Despite the strong agreement about the value of focusing on personal and social responsibility, the AAC&U reported, the PSRII respondents questioned whether their campuses actually focus enough on these issues. For example, only four out of 10 students and three out of 10 campus professionals “strongly agreed” that “striving for excellence” was a major focus on their campus. Only 33.6 percent of students and 42.7 percent of professionals “strongly agreed” that students leave college having increased their “awareness of the importance of contributing to the greater good.”

“This survey demonstrates clearly that we have much work to do to turn these aspirations into achievements for many more students,” noted AAC&U president Carol Geary Schneider. “It also shows, however, that students and campus professionals alike want more attention paid to these issues.”

Lee Knefelkamp, co-author of the PSRII, also of AAC&U, said participating institutions “are already working hard on these issues, but know that they should be doing better.”

From The Lectern

[E]ducation is the making of the future. Its role in a democratic society is that of critic and leader as well as servant; its task is not merely to meet the demands of the present but to alter those demands if necessary, so as to keep them always suited to democratic ideals. Perhaps its most important role is to serve as an instrument of social transition and its responsibilities are defined in terms of the kind of civilization society hopes to build.

—from the 1947 report by the Truman Commission on Higher Education.

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