Monday, November 4, 2013


Our new students have been on campus for about 6 weeks but we are already entering prime season in recruiting new students.  I already have had the pleasure of talking to the first fall open house group of the season and potential students and their families were very clearly focused on the decision they likely would be making in the next 6 months.  In thinking about my talk to these students and their loved ones, I focused on what I have heard from parents and new/potential students last year as well as what I have heard from talking with students and parents in the school district where I live. 

There seems to be, up to the last few weeks when the ill conceived effort to defund Obamacare threatened to undermine the slowly progressing economic recovery, a greater sense of optimism permeating our country.  Hopefully, that sense of optimism will reappear in the weeks ahead.  Optimism works to shift some attention from the sticker price of higher education to the value inherent in the education.  In a weak economy, price often trumps all; when the economy improves, class size, personal attention, and support services all take on greater prominence.  Scholarships, however, remain an important part of the currency of higher education; parents clearly feel they have been more successful, along with the son or daughter, when a scholarship is part of the attraction.

Even with the economy improving, students and their families seem to be maintaining their focus on the job or graduate school opportunity at the end of the baccalaureate degree studies.  Thankfully our increased attention to outcomes assessment provides us with reliable information on what recent graduates are doing and that information is very reassuring.  Students and their parents also seem to be maintaining their interest in and enthusiasm for an internship along the way. I strongly agree that an internship can provide that important bridge between school and a career and provide the student with added sophistication that increases the chances for success.  Dual degree programs also seem to be more and more attractive to potential students.  The opportunity to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in an overall shorter period of time enhances the value proposition.  Think about it, even five years ago and certainly a decade ago, there was much less concern about the job at the end of the degree, much less emphasis on internships, and much less emphasis on dual degrees.  I believe the new priorities have strengthened higher education but there certainly has been a price to be paid.

The price has been the declining appreciation for the importance of a well rounded liberal arts education as the foundation for higher education.  A dual major, a minor along with a major, more time for internships, a chance at a dual degree, all are often made possible by a reduction on the number of foundational liberal arts courses that are the critical source of the common body of knowledge that higher education should provide.  The appreciation for the liberal arts is often overshadowed now by the desire to have more professional experiences, certifications and credentials.  Graduates are often expected to be more specialists and less generalists, more sophisticated in the imediate needs of the chosen profession but less able to understand world issues and challenges.

We all work hard to provide incoming students and their families with the quality education they want in their chosen field.  We change with the changing times and here there is no choice.  But along with the changes, there also has to be an ongoing commitment to the liberal arts.  Higher education should never be confused with a trade school education.

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