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Liberal arts education is undervalued

Lexicon of reason

Published: Sunday, February 6, 2011

Updated: Sunday, February 6, 2011 18:02

America's economic recession is having a dangerous effect on higher education. Many universities focus on programs that are exclusively directed toward basic skill acquisition for employment.

Science, engineering, and math are seen as solid building blocks for our future workforce. These are important areas of study but they are only one part of the big picture. Scores of universities are cutting Liberal Arts programs. Analysts argue that disciplines such as classical studies, philosophy, history, cultural anthropology and sociology have no real value within the modern workforce. Many of these programs are seen as frivolous or nonessential and they are among the first to be cut from a university budget.

This trend reflects a disturbing change within higher education. The value of critical thinking skills has diminished. The ability to operate the latest computer software is often seen as more important than the ability to engage in critical thinking or make ethical decisions. Employers benefit from an unthinking workforce. If nothing is ever challenged then the status quo will always be maintained.

Universities should avoid focusing on "check the box" skills at the expense of developing critical thinkers. We, as future leaders, need to ask ourselves an important question: What are the goals of a college education? Some of the goals should be to train a workforce, broker knowledge, stimulate thought and develop the ability for students to critically evaluate any situation.

The study of liberal arts is uniquely suited to developing the skills needed to navigate through the maze of life's choices. Universities should strive to maintain Liberal Arts programs and integrate their courses with science, engineering and math programs. The recession should not mark the end of a robust, valuable and meaningful college education.

Contact columnist MICHAEL ADKINS at

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1 comments Log in to Comment

Sat Oct 29 2011 13:49
True, Michael Adkins, that is what separates a University from a for-profit school, and thank God. But on the other hand keep that employment section in your hand because we are preparing kids for the future, not for unemployment, because they have student loans. Those kids need a good dose of tech skills whatever they study. Period.

Mike, I wish I could say Marshall University was responsible for my career success. It almost was. I had about three dozen interviews akin to applied research, esp. criminal justice, and Dr. Berhie will know what I mean. Finally with student loans and medical bills (doctors saved my life from cancer, but I had no insurance), and the small disability the Psych Clinic found (Asperger), the State of Maryland was convinced to to train me at public expense to be a computer programmer. BRILLANT MOVE!

A Baltimore area community college with 22 credit hours did more fireworks to my career than 180 hours of Marshall and Shepherd combined. I worked 11 years on South Glebe Road in Arlington before the end of the Bush era destroyed our contracts and my job. I just got off a one year assignment, and unless I remain unemployed, I am about to get more courses in community college because (a) I think I have obsolete skills and (b) the community college solution worked the last time.

I am 41 years old so I have the benefit of hindsight, 15 years after graduating from Marshall. Perhaps classics, humanities, history, social sciences have little value as degrees. That can be argued with numbers and averages. How long does it take to get a job in ___? How many graduates in _____ work in ____? What are starting salaries in ____? At the very least students should learn to ask demanding questions of department chairs, because life is demanding. Parents might do better to teach kids to ask demanding questions rather than to criticize their majors or tell them what to take.

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