This weekend is commencement weekend at my alma mater, Allegheny College. Two years ago I was moving forward cautiously, trying to absorb all of the fun from my experience. I had no clue what was in store for me. I knew I wanted to go into the field of student affairs and higher education, but because I had made that decision so late, I didn’t have time to apply to any graduate programs. So then it became a matter of finding a job in the field to gain some experience and build the resume for a future grad school application process, and at the beginning of that summer, landing that job didn’t seem too likely. In the middle of the summer, it looked even worse. But for the past two years, I’ve worked in Residence Life at a school in northwestern Pennsylvania and I’ve loved it.

My girlfriend is graduating from Allegheny this year (congratulations Molly!). Being with her for her whole senior year, I have had the opportunity of having one year under my belt when I could focus exclusively on what was going on at my current school, and then this year, when I could start to compare and contrast the visions/goals of the two smaller colleges. I thought it might be appropriate to share the biggest difference here, as it does relate to the common good.

Let me start by saying that I believe both institutions, in the end, are for the common good. They both want the people who are welcomed into their communities to be better for them when they leave them. And actually, neither one allows you to “leave,” so to speak. Once you’re in the family of both institutions, no matter what your role, you’re always a part of it.

With that being said though, there is a large philosophical difference. My current employer appears to view the common good as something that can be served by job placement. Personal values are important, but there seems to be a baseline approach — if you have the minimal set of values that will insulate you from life-damaging mistakes, you’re ready to move forward. This particular institution where I work is known for engineering and hard sciences, and so the nuts and bolts of job placement is the focus. The view is that if graduates here can land jobs right out of school, they can lift themselves up socioeconomically, start a family, and contribute to the common good by stabilizing our society.

Allegheny, on the other hand, does not focus nearly as much on job placement; instead, their focus is a never-ending examination of the self. That thorough examination is supplemented with an emphasis on community values, such as civic responsibility, leadership development, and collaboration. Allegheny’s community service office and leadership program are examples of this approach; it’s quite interesting that their career development office is located under the same roof. The common good, according to Allegheny, is best served individually. Whether you have a job with a corporation, a non-profit organization, or whether you’re unemployed, Allegheny’s investment in the whole person — constantly developing your talents, skills, and values — prepares each student to serve the common good.

Any thoughts? What about your institution?

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