on April 2 New York times He published an opinion piece by Brett C. Devereaux, assistant professor at North Carolina State University, titled “Colleges Should Be More Than Career Schools.” The article covers the ongoing efforts of university administrators and politicians of all political stripes to stop funding for the humanities, addresses the perception that the liberal arts as a discipline is only available to the privileged few, and argues for the necessity of liberal arts curricula and values. in all educational contexts.
The debate about the future of liberal arts education is controversial and nuanced, encompassing issues such as accessibility, economic inequality, elitism, classism, and ideological conflict. The data is clear—liberal arts programs are being cut from both public and private institutions nationwide, and an increasing number of students are seeking jobs in vocational schools and in STEM fields, resulting in lower enrollment rates in many departments in the arts and humanities .
Devereaux’s argument in this debate builds on the idea that a liberal arts education produces “good” citizens who are “better equipped to lead and participate in a democratic society.” It also disputes the myth that a liberal arts education is not financially viable, providing data that shows a lower unemployment rate in history majors than in economics, business, and communications majors. Art history and philosophy majors also have relatively high median incomes nationwide, with strong job growth expected.
However, students who get into higher education, with their future in mind, are choosing vocational and STEM schools at increasing rates, and liberal arts funding is declining in response. According to an article published in insideMarymount University, a private Catholic institution in Virginia, has canceled nine of its major offerings, including English, art and sociology. Many schools across the country have done the same, eliminating some of the most popular liberal arts majors.
It’s not just schools that align with the anti-liberal arts mindset. Politicians and community leaders alike urge students to choose professional schools over liberal arts. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama said, “People can achieve, probably, more with skilled manufacture or craft than they can with a degree in art history.” Even major liberal political figures advocated the pursuit of a professional education rather than a liberal arts education.
Despite the many benefits of the liberal arts educational model, there are a few undeniable pitfalls. according to Economics Review, “Professional education is likely to offer more immediate safeguards than liberal education.” Professional education requires less training and delivers more immediate results because students are trained extensively in one particular field. By contrast, liberal arts students graduate from college as professionals in their field, which is an old educational model based on the assumption that students in higher education prepare for graduate degrees.
However, the criticisms that the liberal arts system is stratified are valid. A professional education is much cheaper than a liberal arts education, and the admissions process is much less rigorous. In comparing tuition data for professional schools and colleges from Research.com, the average cost of private, non-profit and public four-year colleges was about twice the average cost of private, non-profit and public colleges. Two-year trade schools.
Most liberal arts college applications require students to answer several essay questions and several short-answer questions in addition to normal application requirements such as an exam and high school credentials. For many, especially those whose literacy and high school careers have been severely affected by their economic situation, applying to liberal arts programs is simply not feasible.
Devereaux acknowledges this, but seems to believe the liberal arts have since transformed and become more accessible. This is not the case. For students who need money immediately upon completion of school, liberal arts degrees are often not applicable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for a liberal arts major was $50,000 in 2019, compared to $61,640 for graduates of technical and trade schools in 2021. The return on investment for liberal arts students is significantly higher than those of non-liberal arts colleges, but the immediate returns to the latter may outweigh the returns to the former for people who do not pursue higher education with economic distinction.
The anti-liberal arts stance is not universal. South China Morning Post Produced an op-ed supporting the incorporation of liberal arts values and curricula into Hong Kong STEM schools in order to allow students to pursue “soft skills” while still being aligned with Hong Kong’s STEM-focused curriculum. Integrating the liberal arts into STEM, professional, and non-liberal curricula is an important step in transforming students into well-rounded, creative, and unique citizens with specializations in specific fields. This idea is important for both educational models.
Ultimately, the shift in liberal arts schools of higher education to a more accessible and less elitist model must come with a radical change in the class system in the United States. This is not an educational problem, but an economic problem. The conservative suggestion that inequality can be resolved by eliminating liberal arts programs, thus reducing elitism, will only exacerbate class distinctions. Access to liberal arts curricula should depend not only on removing elitism and expanding the curricula of liberal arts and non-liberal arts schools, but should depend largely on targeting wealth disparity at the legal and state levels. However, it would be naïve to think that the issues outlined in Devereaux’s article would simply dissipate without first addressing economic stratification in the United States.