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View Diary: Case for a Liberal Arts Education (140 comments)

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  •  I wrestled with this issue for 40 years. (2+ / 0-)

     I taught history and political science for many years at a small, private, liberal arts college that was constantly threatened by low enrollments for 2 reasons: 1) high costs; and 2) student perceptions that what they absolutely needed were marketable skills. The college survived by lowering admissions standards, but also by making major concessions to the vocational viewpoint.
      In 1997, for personal reasons of no relevance here (love, actually), I gave up tenure and moved to a new city where I was lucky to land a job as an adjunct in the English Department of a large university, teaching freshman composition.
      From these 2 experiences, I drew lessons relevant to your theme:
    1) the argument about a liberal arts education is chiefly with students (and often their parents), not with employers. Motivated both by their large levels of debt and by messages from society, far too many students don't think they can afford learning for its own sake, or even to consider their long-term futures. Most believe - wrongly,  I'm convinced - that immediate job skills are the absolute impertive.
    2) Colleges large or small, public or private - could do a much better job of prioritizing teaching while controling costs. When I was a college freshman, I bunked three to a room, with bathroom down the hall, and dined in a cafeteria only a modest step up from high school fare. Now students expect state of the arts fitness centers, electronic game rooms (no kidding!), and dining halls to rival the buffets of Las Vegas. The counseling staff for specialized services rivals the teaching faculty in size. And of course, there's the costly, blood-sucking parasite of big-time collegiate sport. No wonder cost-conscious students are enticed by the false promise of the on-line, for-profit colleges, which make no pretence of defending the liberal arts.
    3) I would love to see an affordable "no frills U" which offered only intramural sports, basic accomodations, healthy student/teacher ratios and recruitment of faculty who may not publish so frequently but consider students junior partners in intellectual inquiry, not distractions to be pawned off on adjuncts and large lecture halls. Probably such a college exists right now; maybe someone on this site can name it.

    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson

    by Blue Boomer on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:55:34 PM PDT

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