There's a new trend at many of America's higher learning institutions: emphasizing career-specific majors at the cost of the liberal arts. A recent Newsweek piece by Nancy Cook, ???The Death of Liberal Arts???, covers the causes and potential effects of this movement. Budget cuts are forcing universities to reevaluate their teaching priorities, and simultaneously, students facing an increasingly difficult job market (just 41 percent of those aged 18-29 have full-time employment according to a recent Pew Research Center study) are choosing what they perceive as more easily marketable degrees than those acquired through a liberal arts education.
But will the rise in popularity of more ???useful??? degree programs serve its intended purpose of increasing job-seekers' employability? Many say no, citing the creativity and imagination associated with liberal arts programs as a necessary component of success in the job market. Cook writes: [quote]
Although many students now want to major in something that sounds like a job, the economy is shifting so rapidly that it's hard to predict the landscape of the labor market??? there's no guarantee that business training will offer students the best preparation for the future.
In Fordham's own Beyond The Basics: Achieving a Liberal Education for All Children, Checker wrote that how well members of society can adapt will not only play a large part in their capacity to find a successful career, but also will determine their chances to participate in public life and interact with their fellow citizens.
So slighting the liberal arts (which has a long-term impact on the viability of people and institutions) as a response to the short-term recession is questionable at best. Nevertheless, it's happening. The next question is what the consequences will be. Beyond the Basics cited the liberal arts as necessary because they prepare students for ??? ???public life' ??? not just politics and government, but the civic life in which we should all partake.??? In a response to the University of Maine's recent proposal to cut liberal arts funding, U of M French professor Yann Dupuy states that the difference between teaching the liberal arts and teaching a career is one of education vs. instruction, where ???education makes citizens??? and ???instruction makes good servants.???
By de-emphasizing the liberal arts, are we setting ourselves up for a less substantial civic life as servants rather than citizens?
Dan Woolf is a Policy & Research Intern in the Fordham Columbus office.