Are Liberal Arts Colleges in Danger?

The Wall Street Journal had a story today that looked at how some traditional liberal arts colleges are starting to offer programs that focus on helping students to acquire skills that get the students ready for the job market.

Programs in computer-science, data analysis, and business are now available to students at schools that would have perhaps shunned such programs 10 years ago.

The reason for the change of heart is obvious – the high cost of education is forcing many students, and their parents, to focus on the return from such an investment. This in turn leads students to pursue majors that have them job-ready on the day they graduate.

A look at the graphic below, also from the Wall Street Journal, shows that there is a bit of a mismatch between what employers are looking for in graduates, and what students are studying.


But I don’t think there is a need to say good-bye to the liberal arts. I just came across two books at Barnes&Noble that look at the value of a liberal arts background: The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World and Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm.

I also think there are creative ways for schools to provide opportunities for students to have the best of both worlds, a liberal arts background coupled with a career oriented program.

I will share Villanova’s Summer Business Institute as an example.

This program is geared towards non-business majors, and enables the students to earn a business minor in one intense summer (nine weeks, five days a week, six hours a day in class, plus homework). The program not only has a strong academic component, it also offers seminars in professional development skills, such as interviewing, resume writing, and networking.

Such a program allows students to pursue a major in a subject that they may be passionate about, while at the same time giving them some basic skills that will get them ready for the world of work.

I’m surprised there aren’t more schools providing such programs, and not just in business. I would think that a summer program that offers students the opportunity to earn a minor in data analytics or computer science, for example, would be popular for both students and potential employers.

Innovative programs like this could potentially breathe new life into liberal arts colleges., and perhaps not a moment too soon.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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