If I could go back and talk to my 18-year-old self, ahem, 40 years later, I’d probably give young John Boyle an earful about his college major decisions.
It would probably go something like this:
Old John, or OJ: “Dude, English? Really? Just become a bartender now.”
Young Know-It-All John the Jerk, or YJJ for short: “Seriously, old man? You let me get that fat, and that’s what you want to talk about? My major? How about a diet plan somewhere in the middle of our life?”
OJ: “Fair point.”
Hey, at least I tried to save YJJ from a life of low-paying-yet-fun teaching and journalism gigs. And, oh yes, let us not forget several years of part-time (OK, a year or two of full-time) pizza delivery that was much better paying than reporting jobs. I kid you not.
You may wonder what spurred this imaginary conversation. When I read Barbara Durr’s excellent piece in Asheville Watchdog last week about the declining enrollment and retention of students at the University of North Carolina Asheville, as well as an exodus of faculty, my mind immediately went to that dark place known as “Liberal Arts Guilt.”
Way back when the world was mostly steam-powered, I graduated from James Madison University in Virginia with a degree in English and minors in education and political science. It’s like I was trying to be poor.
A friend of mine majored in English and History, and – swear to God – at a comedy club show that summer, Jay Leno, after inquiring about his major, did not miss a beat before saying, “So, you want to drive a cab, huh?”
This prejudice against the liberal arts degree, even from those of us who went that route, is very real. Durr detailed a lot of UNCA’s struggles, including meandering leadership, underfunding, low pay and the high cost of living here, and other universities’ cheaper tuition. But she also touched on the perception that liberal arts degrees – and that has always been UNCA’s claim to fame – are considered less valuable than technical, science or math-based degrees.
Also, some conservative political leaders view liberal arts institutions as bastions of liberalism themselves, and they hem and haw about liberal indoctrination, although that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what a liberal arts degree is about.
It’s a complicated problem, but the nut of the issue is that UNCA’s enrollment has dropped 25% since 2015, the largest decline by far in the 16-campus UNC system.
Colleges and universities across the country have seen a drop in enrollment during the pandemic, and a lot of students have questioned the value of a college degree, especially a seemingly vague degree in one of the “liberal arts.”
Now, I probably would advise Young Jerky John to at least consider getting a minor in business or economics or something with a business application. YJJ was very idealistic though, and he was convinced he was going to become either the next Ernest Hemingway or the second coming of Mike Royko.
(For the young readers out there, Hemingway was a Nobel laureate novelist, and Royko, a great newspaper columnist from Chicago. They both lived in the early 1600s and hung out with Shakespeare.)
The point is, I wouldn’t have listened to Old Me, and I probably shouldn’t have. Because here’s a key element in all of this that’s often lost: You’ve got to enjoy what you do for a living, and it’s got to be a good fit.
I could never be an accountant, unless you were looking for someone to be the fall guy for an IRS audit. Same for a computer programmer – I just don’t have that kind of brain.
Also, when I graduated college in 1986, the only computer exposure I’d had was being forced, as an education minor, to take a course in the BASIC computer language (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). Now, it would’ve made sense to make a bunch of budding educators learn how to use a daggone computer, but it made zero sense to make us attempt to learn coding.
The teacher, mercifully, just agreed to pass everyone as long as we tried. I remember writing two codes, with the assistance of a computer science major friend, that did not work. At all. Wouldn’t spell my name out right.
Hey, we’ve both done all right in life.
And that’s my point. I make more than a fair living now, and I still enjoy what I do – and I’m glad I got a degree that says, “Bachelor of Arts.” Sure, the teaching career lasted just a year, but the skills I learned in college were great for journalism.
They included, first and foremost, clear and concise writing, and the ability to analyze a subject and distill it into digestible elements for others to read. Also, liberal arts majors pick up a breadth of knowledge that allows them to pull from it as you progress in your chosen career.
Were some of the classes I took useless? Absolutely. But most were more than worthwhile, and in my case, they often sparked more curiosity about those topics and how the world works.
Not hard to find criticism of ‘worthless’ degrees
Google, “Is a liberal arts education worthless?” and you’re going to tap into a furious online debate about the value of a liberal arts education. You can definitely drop into some rabbit holes, as well, but they’re kind of fun.
I started out on the negative side, reading two articles on LinkedIn by Steven Waechter, who writes frequently about higher education and in a newspaper column describes himself as “an ex-lawyer and current factory worker.” The headlines leave no doubt about his position: “Why Liberal Arts Degrees Are Worthless,” published in 2016, and, “The End of Liberal Arts Colleges,” from June 2020.
As you may have surmised, Waechter finds almost no value in a liberal arts degree, and he majored in political science. He also notes in that second article that the notion of a “liberal arts education” dates back to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher who said a good orator must have a broad education, and “no man ought to be accounted an orator who was not thoroughly accomplished in all those arts that befit a freeborn gentleman.”
Waechter notes that, “Arts that befit a freeborn gentleman,” in Latin becomes “artes liberales.”
“The ‘Liberal Arts,’ that’s where the term originates,” Waechter writes. “Cicero bequeaths the term to us, and centuries later his works would be used as a foundation of what we call a liberal arts education. Based on the rhetorical tradition of Cicero, it aimed to teach grammar, logic, rhetoric (persuasive speech), mathematics, geometry, music, and the other arts appropriate for a gentleman or later a lady.”
Yes, judging by some of the more esoteric class offerings in liberal arts colleges these days, we’ve strayed from that list just a bit.
Waechter, while humorous at times, makes no bones about the perceived value of liberal arts.
“A college degree is worthless if nobody is willing to pay you for the skills you acquired while earning it,” he writes. “STEM graduates, as well as those from accounting programs, learned actual skills in their studies. Humanities majors learned only ‘soft skills’ like writing, and ‘critical thinking.’ All useless majors teach the same ‘soft skills.’ Many of the useful majors also teach them, so why not choose a useful major?”
It’s a fair enough point, but I’ll also note that here in 2022, employers are basically desperate for any intelligent, driven graduate who can learn, and who do indeed have soft skills, like knowing how to talk to people.
His dismissal is way too broad, I think, and he regards STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as the be-all, end-all.
This much I do agree with Waechter on, though: “It’s time to go back to basics; liberal arts colleges should re-examine their curriculum, and start from scratch.”
In defense of liberal arts
On the flip side, you’ll have no trouble finding articles that defend liberal arts, including David Deming’s 2019 column in the New York Times titled, “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure.” Here’s the nut paragraph:
The advantage for STEM majors “fades steadily after their first jobs, and by age 40 the earnings of people who majored in fields like social science or history have caught up,” Deming writes.
He cites two reasons: Technical skills in high demand today become obsolete as technology progresses, and employers often want new graduates who know the latest.
“Second, although liberal arts majors start slow, they gradually catch up to their peers in STEM fields,” Deming continues. “This is by design. A liberal arts education fosters valuable ‘soft skills’ like problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify, and they don’t create clean pathways to high-paying first jobs. But they have long-run value in a wide variety of careers.”
Salary data back that up.
“Mid-career salaries are highest in management and business occupations, as well as professions requiring advanced degrees such as law,” Deming writes. “Liberal arts majors are more likely than STEM graduates to enter those fields.”
And while some folks love to poo-poo subjects such as philosophy and literature as having no relevance to the modern workplace, Deming points out that, “many of the skills most desired by employers are also quite abstract.”
He points to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that found employers considered these three attributes of college graduates the most important: written communication, problem-solving and the ability to work in a team.
In short, the debate goes on, and liberal arts degrees do have value.
Here’s my take. Yes, some liberal arts degrees have very little value in the workplace, and an uncomfortable fact of life is that you just have to make enough money to afford housing, food, a car, clothes and maybe some other niceties, like the occasional vacation. Or repaying your college loan.
I probably should’ve put more emphasis on this earlier. Like a lot of folks, the hard truths of the financial world really hit me once my wife and I had kids.
They’re adults now and live at home, and we charge them each $4,500 a month in rent.
Seriously, we’re all right because I’ve worked long enough to make a decent salary, and my wife is a nurse and makes even more than I do. Which she never reminds me of. Ever.
Hey, I’m OK with being a trophy husband.
But back to reality. Should universities like UNCA reconsider their offerings and be more practical? Absolutely.
College is way more expensive today than when this Boomer went, and you have to factor that into the equation. It is not a good plan to major in something where salaries hover around $40,000 when you’ll graduate with that much or more in debt.
But not everyone is cut out to be an accountant or computer wizard, and we need people with other skills and different ways of approaching and solving problems. Surely, we have tipped too far in society toward an “everyone should go to college” philosophy, and we definitely need more people with hands-on trade skills.
On the flip side, a whole lot of jobs these days require a college degree, fair or not, and you’re generally going to make more money with one than without.
As the Social Security Administration tells us, “There are substantial differences in lifetime earnings by educational attainment.”
“Men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates,” the SSA states. “Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.”
Here’s something my liberal arts education has taught me: Nothing in life is ever simple, and solutions are even more complicated.
I think UNCA will survive, as will the liberal arts education. It’s just going to take a lot of work, and some strong, steady leadership.
And maybe a little pizza delivery on the side.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at email@example.com
My oldest son studied music, because he was absolutely certain he would never be happy doing anything else. He had lots of encouragement from his several teachers who were successful musicians. We had our doubts, but did not discourage him. He is now doing what he loves, and is managing to make a livingIf no one ever got a music education and determined to make music as a living, we would not have any music in our society. Some with any art, visual or any other kind.
Without family money (I helped support parents and an aunt), I paid for my education myself. I’ve always made a good living and am comfortably retired, via a Liberal Arts degree. I agree with all the pros John sets out. I think all one needs to do is look at the state of the USA to see what the lack of liberal arts courses, emphasis on USA Civics, has done to US. As for salary, those educating our future STEMers are likely earning less than they will. What’s right/good/just about that? Yet here we are.
One of our sons chose English and philosophy as his college majors. What was it good for? Getting into law school. His liberal arts education gave him the critical thinking and the verbal ability to pass the extremely tough New York State Bar Exam three years out of college in another state. He’s now working as a public defender, where he won’t get rich, but it’s his choice and a noble one. A much-quoted aphorism holds that “the life of the law is logic.” Liberal education gave him the logic.
John, good writing and thoughts on the benefits of LA degree. Technical degrees are very important. But I will suggest that many middle and senior positions in public or private sectors have individuals who have some liberal arts study in their background.
To your point, best executives demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, writing skills and team building as they lead work groups/organizations.
I think above skills most developed with liberal arts experience.
Your mention of Mike Royko brightened my day. He and Molly Ivins knew how to poke those things that needed to be poked, especially in their local governments. You follow in their footsteps and now have a wonderful news-worthy opportunity ahead of you —- watching and reporting on our local, now single party system of government. At least in the county and its largest city Asheville. If the local governments develop habits and the environment becomes similar to those in larger area cities with single party systems things will get “interesting”.
I was blessed to have the world of both — a Duke liberal course and Duke Law School. I have practiced since 1962 until I get it right. Actually, The Asheville School ’55 taught me the tools how Duke work and what I had to do. I am in indebted to all of my mentors.
Gaylord A. “Jay” Wood, Double Dukie T-59, L-62
Thanks for this exhaustive survey of a complex issue. The fundamental question seems to be, “How many liberal arts majors do we need to teach the next generation of liberal arts majors?” My view is colored by my own undergraduate education at Oberlin College, where I majored in chemistry and minored in music and French. Of the three, the science focus was by far the most valuable to my later years financially, while the music enriched my emotional life and the French was all but useless. My fear is that our public school system does a poor job of preparing kids for demanding college curricula, so many colleges and universities offer watered-down courses in art history and similar arcana in the hope of justifying their budgets through graduating a lot of folks, some of whom will make contributions to society but most of whom will struggle to make ends meet. Taxpayers wind up footing the bill for a lot of this foolishness, while we must import doctors, nurses, engineers, and suchlike from the third-world where their skills are more needed. So I remain an advocate of STEM preparation for whomever is able to withstand its challenge, from grade school on up, and a side of humanities to add spice to life for those with the inclination. I think this emphasis will make our nation richer and more civil in future generations.
Personally, I would not much like a world, or society, of solid STEM types. Is there one profession more boring than engineers who must have skipped their few required liberal arts courses. This observation is based on family members, men I’ve known casually and men I’ve dated–in other words, not just one. Often, doctors don’t score much better but we do understand that being god-like is often forgiven for human shortcomings. Liberal arts opens one’s mind. Period.
My college experience was rather unique, at the US Naval Academy, graduating in 1977. A couple of things about the USNA experience:
1. The mission was to produce officers for the Navy and Marine Corps.
2. There was a core freshman (plebe) curriculum, with very little opportunity for deviation. Placement in advanced sections or credit for basic freshman courses was done by the Academy’s own internal testing. The core curriculum included English, history, calculus, chemistry, foreign language, and BASIC programming, plus military courses. Period.
3. Declaration of major occurred during the 2nd semester of plebe year, with fewer than 25 undergrad majors to choose from. About 80% of the class was required to be in what are now called STEM majors, but we also could choose from English, history, political science, operations analysis (management), or foreign languages. I chose marine engineering, the study of ship propulsion.
In addition to completing the major requirements, we also had to take at least one “liberal arts” elective every semester. As I tended to being a pretty good reader and writer because of my high school English teachers, my electives tended toward literature, with courses like Techniques of the Novel, Fundamentals of Poetry, and Shakespeare. And there were the ubiquitous courses in seamanship and tactics, navigation, leadership (psychology), weapons systems, military law, public speaking, and ship engineering systems.
“It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.” – compiled from the writings of John Paul Jones.
ANY CHANCE YOU CAN MAKE THESE PRINT FRIENDLY?
I would never want to give up my liberal arts education with required courses that exposed me to ideas, literature, political science and history I never knew about, and provided a stepping stones for further self-enrichment in those areas. Nor would I give up geometry proofs in high school, that taught me to think things through logically, for the geometry calculator, that requires knowing which buttons to push to think for you. As voting citizens, it is important for us to understand the past, how our government works, and to think through the consequences of our choices. These days, when the working world changes so rapidly, people have to learn new skills as they move to new jobs. Having a background that allows you to adjust to change provide by a liberal arts education rather than being taught a skill that may become obsolete is important.
A fine and accurate reflection, John. And some useful statistical data I had not seen. One would think that by now we could master developing an education model that made for a whole person AND had marketable skills, too. The hunt continues!
Well, I’ll agree that a liberal arts education is worthwhile. And I’ll note that, at the welcoming ceremony for students at the College of Wooster in 1990 (as parents of an incoming freshman, we were invited to attend), the President of the College noted the same fact that you note: in the long run, the income of LAC graduates overtakes that of graduates in other disciplines. The question to be asked, though, is “Why does this happen?”
The answer lies, to some degree, I think, in the distinction between training and education. Training teaches an individual to accomplish a specific task or a set of tasks whose goals are set by others. Education, on the other hand, provides the student with a skill set that allows them to identify and articulate challenges and propose and carry out solutions. I recognize that these attributes are not mutually exclusive.
Industry in the United States for certain has transferred the responsibility for training workers to colleges and universities, thereby maximizing their profit margins at the expense of the employee (trainee) in the long run. Another problem with this approach is that the pressure to turn out college graduates already trained to accomplish specific tasks makes these same graduates less valuable with time as the nature of the tasks changes, since many industries are loathe to invest in the continuing education of their employees.
Finally, this same downward pressure – trickle down? – can result in changes to primary and secondary education processes so that student are more easily trained at the college level.
Perhaps industry and business should step up and resume responsibility for the training of their employees which they have previously abandoned and allow colleges and universities to take on the more general challenge of education.
Great article, really enjoyed reading it
I serve on the Board of Trustees of a mid-sized (3000 undergraduates) University that is a liberal arts institution. We have bucked the enrollment trend the past few years and, in fact, we had a record incoming class this year and the employment rate our graduates is outstanding. While we (like UNCA) have many STEM majors and concentrations (Chemistry, Biology, Math, Accounting, Economics, Engineering, Computer Science, etc) that are adjacent to our liberal arts core, our emphasis is ensuring a well rounded education for all majors. I believe that the exposure to this liberal arts core better prepares young students for their lives in the real world. This is a strong value proposition for convincing students and their families to attend so called liberal arts institutions. As the New York Times’ columnist Frank Bruni says in a opinion piece on higher education:
“It’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.”
and Frank Bruni is a UNC-CH alum. Go Heels!
Education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed that, “[d]emocracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
We have failed to educate in the subjects of history and political science–really basic civics. We see the results today clearly as people do not understand our basic government and what protects it. These are not STEM subjects and they are vital.
As a philosophy major who would make that choice again in a New York minute, it’s probably pretty clear where I come down on this well-debated argument. I’m retired after more than 40 years in the workplace. I was a communications specialist who worked mainly in health care and higher ed with a short stint in aerospace. The skills I developed in college: writing, analysis, debate and critical thinking helped me in every phase of my career. I wrote speeches, annual reports, satellite proposal executive summaries, health care columns, mission statements, strategic plans and more, much more. Much of my work involved interviewing experts and translating that information into readable, easy-to-understand language. I learned a little about a lot of topics, and it was a wonderful way to make a living. Would a business minor have helped? It might have hastened my grasp of a spreadsheet, but I can’t think of what courses I’d be willing to sacrifice for that small advantage. It’s not for everyone, but it saddens me that the liberal arts is not considered a marketable degree. It not only helped me become a valuable employee but it also enhanced my life and my appreciation for the depth and breadth of knowledge.
Interesting discussion but some important points have gone unaddressed. Before the 1980’s, when four year degrees were practically available to only a small subset of Americans, graduates could be expected to be broadly educated and to have certain academic and social competencies that were, all too often, tied directly to class. As higher education became more a credential available to many , it was inevitable that the value of a bachelors degree would plunge (particularly those degrees that did not include technical skills easily applicable to particular jobs.) Later, as equal employment opportunity became a legal reality, employers were forced to justify hiring decisions more strictly. Imagine the legal consequences today of hiring your privileged friend’s son with a philosophy degree over a minority candidate who actually has technical certifications directly related to the job you are filling! The world has changed. The economic and political system is radically different and institutions that were founded on exclusivity, privilege and tradition, like academia, must adapt or die. It is horribly sad that most Americans can no longer afford the luxury of a liberal arts education and we will be culturally depleted as a result. But in the grand scheme of things, that may be the least of our worries. Reminiscing about the good old days only obscures the current political and economic realities.
I am a huge fan of the liberal arts for creating an electorate that can think critically; Benjamin Franklin understood that when he proposed the Philadelphia Academy.
From T.H. White’s The Once and Future King:
“The best thing for being sad,’ replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, ‘is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in you anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags in it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn – pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics – why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
As a native Chicagoan, I was raised on Royko, Curtis, Jacobson and some fun John Drummond on the fo’c’sle of a tramp steamer (sorry I’m of the TV news generation). You my friend, have been my pureset source of joy since landing in my adopted home many years ago. Thank you for all that you do to bring us readers information and joy in what can be a rather bleak world. Keep up the good work!
As I see it, the underlying purpose of education in this country needs ALWAYS to be: not to produce workers for American business, but to produce citizens for American democracy! There has never been a time when this was more apparent than now. How do I relate honestly, sincerely, and productively with other people, trusting them, despite differences, as we look to accomplish worthwhile goals together? How do I sense it when someone is lying to me, devising clever, self-serving fabrications? How do I avoid viewing myself as a martyr, a victim of dark conspiracies? How do I not be manipulated into opposing my own best interests? How do I learn to identify the other side of half-truths? Skilled workers are vitally important, educated citizens far more so. Democracy does not maintain itself automatically; it requires dedication.
The frequent changes in leadership at UNCA are an issue when it comes to diversification of the curriculum. I taught at UNC Greensboro for 15 years in their vibrant social work department. About 300 majors out of a student body around 18,000. This major requires special professional skills and training along with the liberal arts skills of critical thinking. All my grads had jobs upon graduation. Having such programs has costs in time and money. It will take leadership that is enduring to make any significant changes in curriculum that honors the value of UNCA’s tradition of liberal arts, while offering other opportunities into the professions. Is it a good idea to venture in a more professional direction for UNCA? I do not know. I do know that without steady and enduring leadership, this question will not receive the attention it needs. BTW, thanks for the support of the liberal arts. I graduated from a small LA college and took my critical thinking skills on to graduate school at Princeton and Rutgers and moved on into my professional world.
My hometown newspaper did not carry many syndicated writers but it did carry Mike Royko. I probably started regularly reading his column when I was 10.
My liberal arts degree was happily accepted by the USN and got me into Aviation Officer’s Candidate School.
John, as a graduate of UNCA, Philosophy and Political Science, I would hold up my liberal arts education to any strictly STEM education. The world needs more critical thinkers who are talented in thinking outside the box.
I read somewhere that there’s a trend in office jobs that there are less companies requiring any sort of degree past High School. Don’t know if that’s true, but with the squeeze on employers to find workers that stay with a company, i can believe it. I happened to have no degree past High School, but taught myself computing and worked mostly in the computer field after my also educational pizza delivery days. I made good money, but also took time away and enjoyed being a cab driver and the Resident Gardener at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, among other jobs. So, i probably fall on the side of “don’t get that degree unless you really want it, but never stop learning or doing what you love.”
So sad. Another example of American Exceptionalism? “Your life is measured in money, so why bother learning about anything else?”
So much has been learned and lost. This “what is it worth (in money)” approach contributes to that.
As this piece pointed out, adaptability, curiosity and imagination have more “legs” than point in time skills.
Things change, and those who cannot adapt will be in trouble – we have been seeing that amplified in recent decades. The more you know the more adaptable you can be. The less you know the more likely you will be left in the lurch, unprepared to think your way through to new things.
Also, after you clock out from work, what will you do next? Is there so little to the rest of your life that it is not worth investing in some learning and knowledge for that?
It is hard to predict when specific knowledge will be useful, but that in itself is a reason to get as much of it as you can, whenever you can.
And it’s healthy too: low calorie, low carb, highly nutritional (for you mind) …
Fear of insufficiency (mixed with some vanity) drowning out the rest of life?
Two things can be true at the same time. Yes you need to earn to survive in our style of an exchange economy (money being the exchange medium)
There COULD be more to life than working to survive (living to work) – if you choose to make more of it, and prepare your life for it.
It’s a choice. Why pick a “work is everything” approach? Why not balance the scale with equal (or more) emphasis on the rest of the time you (and family, friends, communities) have on your hands?
The pandemic allowed quite a few people to take another look at that. Good for them.
The more you know, the more you will be able to make your own decisions. The less you know the more someone else is going to make those decisions for you.
Lean more, live more, make more out of life.
I am a UNC Asheville alumnus (class of 2012) and this whole article is a migraine inducing summary of why our current economic, social, and political order is morally and conceptually bankrupt. From my perspective there *isn’t* any doubt to the value that liberal arts gives to society even though I got a BS instead of a BA. However when you charge almost as much as mortgage just to get a university education, and the massive loans that are a part of this deal (signed jointly by *minors* mind you) are non dischargeable in bankruptcy, then this artificial culture war between liberal arts & STEM is deliberately ignoring the main issue. Just like with the healthcare system, public university should be free at the point of service and paid for by taxes for those that are accepted. Same goes for the trades. Anything else is just an excuse for “public higher education” in this country, which is acting more and more like low-quality for-profit “education” every day. UNC Asheville’s problems, just like majority of Asheville’s problems, is due to chronic underinvestment, administrative bloat, and a failed economic dogma that thinks that corporate welfare will cause financial growth to magically fall out of the sky and that people’s financial problems all boil down to a lack of personal responsibility. Also as an aside what kind of parent charges their own children $4500 a month each for rent? I’m a 32 year old man living by himself and the rent I pay to my *corporate landlord* in this insane gentrified town is less that what you charge your own kids. It’s hard to take your flowery language about Cicero seriously when you’re fleecing your own children in order to, I don’t know, teach them “financial responsibility” like Dave Ramsey or some other right-wing scam artist? Narrow-mindedness and sheer hypocrisy like this are why I have such hard left-wing views and proves why even the Democratic Party and liberals don’t have your back. Public university for all, no excuses.
The more telling indication of trouble is the turnover in faculty at UNCA. Good faculty can leave for better jobs. Word of mouth gives raves to great teachers, not buildings. I wasn’t paying too much attention to UNCA, but didn’t it get a new chancellor, only to gave her quit in half a year? And the next chancellor stayed for 2 years to build her resume for a job she desired more? Is there atrophy and neglect in direction at UNCA? Or is the state UNC system rife with micromanagers? Why not interview retired tenured profs ?
Regardless of one’s degree, I believe it’s best to be balanced, well-read, frugal, pragmatic, open-minded, a long-term investor. I come from a family of Math whizzes but majored in English at UNC-CH. For those who enjoy bashing the liberal arts, try to imagine an alternate reality where you’re forced to binge-watch a Netflix series written by civil engineers.
Sadly, this is the prejudicial mindset that has given us Enron’s “Smartest Guys in the Room,” Trumpian Politics, “You’re doing a great job, Brownie, and countless other examples. Here’s the thing: With the World Wide Innerweb, on-line courses, tutorials, along with libarys and book-larnin’, one can learn about business and economics without having a degree in it. In fact, you can actually run a business without one too. It reminds of this great ad years ago. https://youtu.be/NcoDV0dhWPA
And I’ll tell you where a liberal arts education comes in really handy: Advertising and Public Relations. Back in the olden days, that’s where most copywriters, brand managers and publicists came from. Because you become a generalist and have the ability to use your knowledge and desire for constant learning. I only knew one person in college “studying” public relations. Now we have Internet influencer p.r. specialist management as a degree. And they can’t write a complete sentence. How about we get back to teaching civics, logic, problem solving and critical thinking?
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