These are tough times for the liberal arts. This deepest of Western traditions, which extends to antiquity with the Greeks, continued through the medieval ages, blossomed again in the Renaissance, only to turn morbid and nearly die in the 20th century leave many Americans asking “Why?” and “What bread does it bake?” The liberal arts traditionally were the arts that made a man liberated, free, a citizen, capable of participating in civic life, public debate, and being an all around virtuous and wise person. But what does that mean to us, when we see the bottom line in terms of dollars? The anxiety for the U.S. to remain competitive in the world market when faced with China and other economical giants, and the discouragement of the Great Recession has led many universities and their students to reconsider why anybody should seek a liberal arts degree and what they should study.
Being “prepared for the world,” now means, “the world of business,” and life is in making a living. Research conducted by Buzz Marketing Group and the Young Entrepreneur Council, as reported by The Atlantic, found that 92 percent of students believed entrepreneurship education is vital to their success, but 56 percent of students lacked any access to such classes. Along the same lines, a study by the Junior Achievement Innovation Initiative and Gallup found that 95 to 96 percent of employers and employees believe entrepreneurial programs are needed to keep America competitive.
Some schools are catching on. Babson College has changed its program since Len Schlesinger has become president. Students are expected to be in class a mere 14 hours a week, and to spend 154 elsewhere, including setting up their own business. All freshmen are expected to work on teams to create new businesses.
With 1 out of 2 bachelor degree graduates under the age of 25 going jobless, it makes sense to reconsider the liberal arts degree. The world no longer wants intelligent, articulate, liberated, wise, well-rounded students. It wants canny dollar-earners who can handle the market and its increasing demands.
Students must seek council beyond the university. Professors tend to praise degrees beyond their use. When I was considering getting my masters in English Literature, I quizzed the department head at my university. He admitted that there were few job prospects for English Masters to become professors, but that the degree would have “Spiritual value.” It’s hard to afford degrees on those terms these days. The Starbucks I worked at when I had difficulty using my liberal arts degree put me in the company of such coworkers as two other English literature graduates, an art graduate, a theology graduate, a philosophy graduate, and also a couple business graduates. This is capitalism, boys and girls, and a degree in the liberal arts is a luxury, not an asset.