- St. John’s College is offering its students a unique college experience at its two campuses in Maryland and New Mexico that reminds some of a bygone era, but gives its graduates the ability to think more deeply and often have more success, admirers say.
- In a detailed look at the college for Quartz, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University Professor Peter Marber, co-author of the book “The Evolution of Liberal Arts in the Global Age," notes how its effort to help students “learn how to learn” produces more students per capita who earn PhDs and many others who are successful in a variety of fields.
- The college offers its some 400 students at each campus small classes that are the same each year and traditional approaches to everything from textbooks and class discussions (using the Socratic Method and the titles of “Mr.” and “Ms.” in addressing classmates and their “tutors” who lead the small groups) to a social life that includes formal dances featuring the waltz and croquet as a leading sport. Students read about 125 books and write about 25 papers at least 10 pages long over their four years.
Marber notes that leading business analysts have suggested that students with liberal arts degrees may be more sought after in a new economy demanding “creative and critical thinking that develops in the St. John’s bubble and may be just what the future will require.” He notes that both Marc Cuban, the entrepreneur and host on the business venture show Shark Tank, and former Google and Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Li have suggested that liberal arts degrees and the type of thinking St. John promotes will be valuable, even in high tech fields such as virtual and augmented reality. “Given AI is more objective, analytical, data driven, maybe it’s time for some of us to switch to the humanities, liberal arts, and beauty,” Lee told Quartz.
U.S. News & World Report recently reported that liberal arts programs have lost favor with many students and a number of small colleges are closing or trying new approaches. Fewer than 5% of degrees are now in traditional liberal arts fields, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, down from about 20% in 1967. Burning Glass Technologies, a research firm, and the think tank the American Enterprise Institute have reported that the number of bachelor's degrees in history has fallen 25% since 2007 and the numbers of graduates in English language, literature and composition are down 22%, and philosophy and religious studies 15%.
Inside Higher Education has also tracked the number of small liberal arts institutions that are struggling or closing, noting that there was a "glut” of closures last fall. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that often it is a failure of leadership, a lack of independence at the board level and an inability to change that causes them to struggle, not simply finances.