What is a liberal arts education? In answering this question, liberal arts colleges almost always talk about the traditional benefits first: a broad-based education that provides students with a grounding in the arts, humanities, physical and life sciences, and social sciences—regardless of major—that hones important skills needed for success. But when we do this, we leave out a major component of liberal arts learning—and that is a problem.
Category: Higher Education
Choosing to attend college has always been an incredibly important and somewhat frightening decision, but it has never been more fraught with uncertainty than it is today. And it’s no wonder, given the number of voices contributing to what has become an alarming narrative about rising college costs.
We are at the beginning of another college admission season, and for those students and families who will soon enter the college search process, here are some points to help sort through the noise.
The Mythology Surrounding Student Debt
The drumbeat of risk sharing with regard to student-debt default has been getting louder. Senator Elizabeth Warren jumped into the debt-free college fray last week with a proposal that included risk sharing and the Chronicle ran a commentary piece from Douglas Webber largely extoling the virtues of the policy. While Webber’s piece makes some important points, like Warren, he fails to take into account factors beyond a college’s control.
In all of the talk of risk sharing and institutional accountability, we have lost sight of the fact that a college education is a partnership between an institution and a student. Students have both a responsibility and a significant degree of control in this venture. A college can offer comprehensive financial and academic advising, but it is the student who makes the decisions that effect how much they borrow, what their major will be, how they engage in their learning experience and how they take advantage of the institutional programs that best prepare them to enter the job market.
If you have ever gone on a particularly challenging mountain hike, there are a number of truths you have come to expect. You need to put in the time to prepare: planning the trek, getting your gear together, deciding which trail to follow and being mentally and physically prepared.
The most difficult part is often mental preparation. It’s one thing to read that a trail requires eight hours of rigorous hiking to reach the summit, but it’s quite another to do it. Then there are those things that are beyond your control—obstacles, changing weather, bad jerky. How you react has great bearing on your journey.
I recently found myself having a Howard Beale moment. “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Beale, the TV news anchor in the film Network, is feeling dismay about the state of television news and makes his declaration during a broadcast. Since the February announcement that Sweet Briar College would close—citing, among other things, the “declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges”—Wilson College seems to have become inextricably linked with the story because Wilson’s planned closure in 1979 was reversed in court, preserving the institution.
The student debt crisis: what does it mean and is it real? These questions have become prominent in the media recently and it seems as though everyone has a different opinion about the right answer. The New York Times Magazine ran a June 22 cover feature that painted a largely bleak picture of the “boomerang generation”—students who return home after college—alongside a photo essay with thumbnail profiles of students burdened with debt living with their parents. Two days later the Times ran another story describing the student debt crisis as overblown by the media and distracting from real issues. Which is it?
Governor Tom Corbett has included a new initiative, “Ready to Succeed Scholarships” (RTSS), in his 2014-15 budget proposal aimed at assisting middle income families to pay for a college education. In announcing the plan, the Governor Corbett acknowledged growing concern about the affordability of education and asked Pennsylvania colleges to join with him in holding the line on student debt.
In January 2013, Wilson College completed a lengthy self-examination and one of primary outcomes was an institutional commitment to the value and affordability of a Wilson degree. The process affirmed the advantages and value of a liberal arts education: career-specific learning with broad educational exposure, smaller class sizes that foster greater faculty/student interaction and improved learning, and the development of critical thinking, communication and complex problem-solving skills that are in high demand from employers today.