The glum future of the American liberal arts college

In a recent article for Miller-McCune Magazine, “‘Wither’ The Liberal Arts College?”, English professor Anne Trubek discusses the troubled state of American liberal arts colleges with author Victor E. Ferrall Jr.

“In Liberal Arts at the Brink, Victor E. Ferrall Jr., former president of Beloit College, bluntly and convincingly argues that liberal arts colleges, from famous leafy schools like Swarthmore and Bowdoin to lesser-known regional schools like Bethel and Hiram, are in trouble. The increasing career orientation of students entering higher education has led many of these schools to add vocational majors such as nursing, education and leisure studies, watering down their historic missions. While listed tuitions remain high, in part to ensure prestige, colleges compete for the few top students, discounting tuition for them so drastically that the institutions lose money.

“Ferrall, who was a senior partner in a Washington, D.C., law firm before becoming Beloit’s president, where he is now president emeritus, believes in the core values of a liberal education and urges America’s 225 liberal arts colleges to band together to ensure their collective survival. He advocates for creating tuition consortia, curricular collaborations and cost-sharing measures.

“As a professor at a liberal arts college dismayed by higher education’s increasing cost and its increasing silence in public debates, I was eager to read Ferrall’s book. While Liberal Arts on the Brink has been discussed at institutions, such as the Wilson Center, and lauded by business leaders, the book has yet to generate much response within the very communities Ferrall writes about. By ignoring Ferrall’s warnings, are liberal arts colleges proving his point that they are “at the brink”?…”

Read the full interview here.

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Sylvia Hall
Sylvia Hall
8 years ago

Classical liberal education which was considered as elitist in Post colonial societies like Jamaica is also under tremendous pressure as more and more focus is given to technical/vocational education. There are serious implications as educational access has not only economic consequences but is also class based.

Edward C. Pease
8 years ago

While the push from both legislators and students for more practical and marketable skills is understandable in the current grim economic climate, it is disheartening to see liberal education colleges and programs stampeding for the exits. At conferences of Arts & Sciences administrators over the past year, deans and provosts have engaged in abject hand-wringing, or just capitulate altogether. Not so at Utah State University, a land-grant university where the faculty and leadership of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences have taken exactly the opposite approach: ramping up the rigor and telling the story of the lifelong building blocks… Read more »

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