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The Importance of Character Development at the University Level

By Dr. Gregg Amore, Associate Dean of Students for Student Development DeSales University, and Pennsylvania State Schools of Character Coordinator

Education comes in many shapes and forms. We have early childhood education, kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school, trade school, college, graduate school, post-doctoral programs, certificate programs and the latest is badges. The main focus is always to equip the student with knowledge and skills necessary to perform competently in in their chosen area of endeavor. In our myopic focus, on a narrow skills set, we frequently overlook the real engine that drives success – CHARACTER.

This is why our mission at DeSales University is, “Developing minds to conceive it, and character to control it.”  Competence, without the character to control it, often results in disastrous consequences.

All educators have a role and responsibility for the development of the whole person. It is essential that students fully understand and embrace the comprehensive development of their character. This is only possible if the educators model, teach, and develop the character of those entrusted to their care.

Educators frequently believe that character development is the role and responsibility of the family or the church. Character strength and virtue are often considered soft-skills and difficult to measure; thus, not deserving of the educators time and energy. Comprehensive student development is the responsibility of every educator.

Unfortunately, college is often the place where education becomes the most specialized with little emphasis on character. Professors are rewarded for research and publication. The old “publish or perish” mantra is still alive and well. Some say a specialist is that “person who knows more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.” Is this really the kind of person higher education should be unleashing onto society?

College is often the last opportunity for our educational system to make a significant impact on the on young people before we set them on to their career path. Thus, it is most critical that we equip them with the necessary character qualities that will enable them to not only perform competently but also, direct that competence for the greater good.

Will they leave our ivy covered walls with a sense of humanity and a desire to leave the world better then they found it? Will they have the emotional intelligence to understand and manage their passions and those around them? Will have the courage of their convections and the strength to respectfully agree to disagree, to find the common ground, to discover the better way, to create the synergistic solution? Will they perform their duties in a responsible manner and create a confidence in those around them that they are reliable? Will they have a sense of justice and citizenship and treat all people fairly and kindly? When the going gets tough well they have the resilience to stay the course? Will they understand, appreciate and strive for artful excellence? Will the find strength in humility and forgiveness, and opportunity in crisis?

These four critical years are often the last opportunity to mold our students into leaders of competence and character. We must resist the urge to believe that our only responsibility is to provide the subject specific content and leave the rest up to chance. We must embrace this challenge, because they will all lead, even if it is to simply lead their family; which is the most significant leadership role.

Research tells us we remember best things we study first and things we study last. It is commonly called primacy and recency effect. So then, it is the responsibility of colleges and universities to be impactful in the arena of character development. We in higher education have the highest calling because we have the last opportunity to make a lasting impression.

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