Universities provide an important context within which we can explore our identity (Kroger, 2007). We can procure cultural capital by learning about major world achievements in art, history, literature, mathematics, psychology; we learn how to think critically; we acquire skills; we interact with people highly similar to and very different from us; we develop our competencies and identify our interests.
Universities are also engines of social justice - they now allow more and more people to learn and earn a degree than ever before (e.g., some did not accept women until the late 1960s) - especially if they did not grow up in a home with economic and/or intellectual privilege.
Yet it is very worrisome that this engine of social justice is not being been fueled sufficiently in recent years, leaving many to struggle to pay ever-rising tuition bills, much less develop their identity. To learn more, please consider reading this very informative piece on the state of universities in the U.S.: http://bit.ly/dJRzCf