20 Reforms: No. 16: Drop Liberal Arts?

Excerptedelephant 003 from The Elephant in the Classroom (How our fear of the truth hurts kids and how every student can succeed).

Since there will always be limited funding for state universities, especially during a recession, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, seems to be on a path that would force cuts to liberal arts courses such as anthropology and English as a way to increase funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. Bill Maxwell, a writer for the Tampa Bay Times who has taught at the college level, believes this is a huge mistake. If this is in fact true, I would agree with Mr. Maxwell. Bill Maxwell, “Requiem for College Life as I Knew It,” Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

A related threat to universities is the concept of evaluating these institutions according to the earning power of their graduates. Our U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently unveiled a Blueprint for College Affordability. It calls for collecting earnings and employment information on colleges and universities. This will allow the government to publish statistics on how much money graduates earn after leaving school.

The State of Florida is about to embark on an assessment of state colleges, including graduates’ earning power, but will also add factors such as six-year graduation rates, the number of students in science and technology, and the percentage of graduates who get a job. This may inadvertently punish small colleges such as Florida A&M University, the state’s historically Black public university. Tia Mitchell, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, Tampa Bay Times, January 17, 2014.

Robin Mamlet, a former admissions dean at Stanford University, and Christine Van DeVelde, a journalist, raise the possibility of unintended consequences. They state that “in reducing college selection to a mere financial scorecard, the government is promoting a false value that has a high price indeed. “Should Colleges Be Factories For The 1%?”  Robin Mamlet and Christine Van DeVelde, The Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2000.

As with all these reforms that look in all the wrong places, the elephant’s plan makes these approaches unnecessary. College bound kids will get a full spectrum of college courses while career students will be happy with research that show how much they earn with their certifications.

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