How liberal arts colleges are making their case
- Liberal arts programs are searching for ways to attract and keep students as the number of humanities programs declines and more small liberal art colleges close their doors, according to The Hechinger Report, which notes that the issue was a key topic at the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
- Hechinger cites recent reports indicating that only about 5% of degrees offered are in humanities disciplines that have traditionally been connected with liberal arts, down from about 20% in 1967. The number of bachelor’s degrees in history and English have dropped 22% to 25% in 10 years.
- Some colleges are promoting the value of liberal arts, noting that their graduates earn comparable incomes, and making their case in other ways. But others are cutting liberal arts programming, and a number of small private liberal art colleges have closed. A report last year indicated that about 28% of some 500 small private liberal arts colleges have changed direction, closed or merged during the last 50 years.
A report by the American Enterprise Institute and Burning Glass notes that liberal arts programs should also allow students to build “in demand skills through strategic curriculum development” and by collaborating more with employers offering opportunities for real-world work in internships or co-ops.
Likewise, the reports says that four career clusters offer opportunities for liberal arts students if they get hybrid skill sets through minors or short-term training programs in IT, business, communications, design and analysis. The report authors wrote that students must often add practical or technical skills to the analytical and communications skills that liberal arts degrees provide: “The right skills (e.g., digital design) added to the right major (e.g., fine art) can lead to a good job with a good future.”
Some advocates note that employers routinely report they need skills that often develop from a liberal arts degree, and that these colleges must show this value, especially because one study says 40% of liberal arts grads believe they should have picked a different major and another says 33% didn’t see how what they learned in college related to their jobs.
Besides promoting the value of liberal arts or mixing the degree with more practical skills, some institutions are guaranteeing a job. In addition, there are those clearly showing in promotional material the career trajectory of their graduates or promoting the better health and happiness their graduates reportedly achieve.
Some struggling liberal arts schools are turning to online learning to help them survive, and Knoxville College, a historically black university, hopes to open again this fall initially by offering online courses.
While the trend is away from liberal arts in the US, reports say educators in China apparently are promoting the humanities and social sciences. And, liberal arts is still a priority in pockets of higher education such as military academies and culinary schools. One college in Canada is requiring more humanities exposure for its business school graduates after finding that research showed potential employers wanted it.