If the true purpose of the University is to put people on a journey of pursuing knowledge rather than purely professional development, then I think that an educational system that truly believes this would be radically different than the educational system we find ourselves participating in.
For one thing, technical colleges and trade schools would be much more important because there are people who want to learn how to do a specific job and have a specific career. I concentrated in accounting in my undergraduate. I feel like that would belong in this type of trade specific training. Of course there are people who want to study the theory of accounting, but most people, myself included, want to learn about accounting so that we could become accountants. I even think that training to be a doctor could fall under this trade specific training program. Schools that teach these types of technical skills for people who want a specific career would be vitally important in this system.
The University than would be focused on the further development of knowledge. This is naturally practical, but it is practical in a different way than it is for people who need to learn how to perform surgery. At the University, innovation is vital. It is not so much learning how to perform surgery in the way that it is done now, but it is thinking about how to perform surgery better.
Of course, this might be best done by people who have already performed surgery, so I do not mean that there is a hard and fast separation between these two, but I am suggesting that students need to decide what they actually want out of their education.
Right now, the conventional wisdom is that everyone must go to University in order to get a job. Notice that in the proposed system, that is certainly not the case. If people are interested in truly developing knowledge and pressure on to new and innovative things, there is an option for that. There is also an option for people who want to learn a trade and do it well. Both are valuable, but there is a difference between professional training and the University.
This would also satisfy Kuyper who was frustrated that the ultimate purpose of the University was being twisted by people who simply wanted professional training. For people who want just to learn the skills, there is a way to do that that would be important and necessary in our society. However, if there are people who genuinely want to strive in this community of pursuing knowledge, there would be a pathway for them as well.
I write this as someone who has been on both sides of this equation. Like I said, my undergraduate was extraordinarily practical, and I intended it to be practical. I was a business major because I knew I could get a job with that degree. Given my personality, I was also interested in pursuing knowledge, but my motives were very much more aligned with finding a career and developing those professional skills.
Now, I am pursuing a PhD in humanities, and I would love to have that be my career at some point. I would love to be a professor and teach about Great Books. However, I did not decide to get my degree for that purpose. I like to learn about the Western Canon, and I like to think about the ideas that have been debated over and over in our great intellectual tradition. I already have a career, but I continue to learn because I love to learn and I want to learn more.
There’s a lot more to be said about this system however because there are other parts of college beyond simply professional training even for people who go to college with the intention of developing professional skills. Those skills would need to be cultivated differently than the rest of our education system. I guess that will be something for next week.