Valuing the Liberal Arts – Another Viewpoint

July 7, 2009

The recent panic over the declining stock value of the humanities and liberal arts on university campuses might lead some to sell their holdings prematurely. In my personal opinion, however, the portfolio does have a future even if it may require a bit of rebalancing.

The question has usually been phrased in the following form: Can we, or should we, convince young college students to major in English, history, philosophy, art history, or related fields, given today’s job market?

There are arguments in favor of doing just that, such as those recently presented in this column by interns Christian Hines and Josh Eskew. Let’s consider, though, a few other markets for the humanities in higher education:

1) Non-majors. As a college student, I took a course called Chemistry for Non-Majors because my university felt I needed to know some science despite being an English major. Universities should not abandon the ideal vision of the educated person, even if that person is headed for a career in business, engineering, or sportscasting. Someday that graduate may be called on to know about Renaissance free markets, Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, or the origin of the marathon.

2) Education majors. Students who are preparing to teach humanities subjects in K-12 classrooms are not always required to take many, or any, college courses in those departments. This issue can be controversial, so I will simply point it out.

3) Older students. The leading edge of the wave of baby boomers is comprised of people born in 1946, who are turning 63 this year. Early retirement is being accelerated by layoffs due to the economic crisis. Thus there are a lot of people who came of age in the ’60s, still wonder what it all meant, and have time to go back to school and find out. Preparing students for “the rest of their lives” may soon take on a whole new meaning.

Will any of these strategies fill upper division courses and senior seminars? Given some creative retooling, perhaps they might.

One comment

  1. I agree, Nancy. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably have several different jobs in my life (while my parents are going on 30+ years in their respective jobs). So, that means I need a much different education than they did. I need a little bit of science, a little bit of math, a little bit of business and marketing, and, yes, even if I was in medicine, a dose of the humanities.

    Plus, it doesn’t just make me a more mareketable hire, it makes me a well-rounded person, a better neighbor and a responsible citizen.

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