Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Liberal Arts in Jeopardy?

Interesting that I just had this identical discussion with a couple of colleagues from the "other side" of the college - history and political science. The purpose of our meeting was to identify potential areas for new courses and programs. My colleagues were probably justified in thinking that we were being asked to examine market and economic trends in the hopes of figuring out which career programs and courses we could pursue. The key word being market, which leads to marketable courses and programs. My colleagues see this as a myopic reaction to a down economy. They make the point that in difficult economic times, all students - including liberal arts students - will be unable or unwilling to pay for a pricey four-year college education. Students will instead opt for completing their first two years at an affordable, quality community college. What do you think? Liberal Arts in Jeopardy?
As colleges across the country continue to cinch their belts, both administrators and students have been forced to decide which sorts of programs are good investments and which are now unaffordable luxuries. And with students sweating a cutthroat job market that favors specific skills, many in higher education have been left wonder how the recession stands to affect the liberal arts.

That was much on the minds of liberal arts leaders gathered here at the annual meeting of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences. How to maintain the appeal of ‘an education for wisdom and virtue’ as families and institutions fixate anxiously on their bottom lines was the question of the day.

‘We need to think about how it is that we preserve the things that are important,’ Dan Wakelee, associate dean of the faculty at California State University at Channel Islands, ‘so that when things stabilize, we’re in a position to accommodate students and continue to offer liberal arts programs that have made us distinctive in the past.’

Liberal arts institutions must take an active role in convincing students and parents that pursuing a liberal education will enrich them as people without compromising them as job-seekers, said Kristin Fossum, an associate dean at Pomona College.

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