April 12, 2010
Letter to the Editor of Newsweek Regarding "The Death of the Liberal Arts"
To the Editor:
Re “The death of the liberal arts” (April 5, 2010). Since liberal education is this nation’s premier educational tradition, it would be cause for huge alarm if this tradition were truly dying. But, in its recent article, Newsweek focused only on a few disciplines and institutions and missed the larger story. Liberal education is, in fact, dramatically expanding its reach to include all parts of the educational experience and community.
Across all parts of higher education, liberal education is being reaffirmed and redesigned to better prepare all graduates—not just those in the humanities or small colleges—for the challenges of a global century. The Association of American Colleges and Universities, which includes some 1200 colleges, universities, community colleges, and state systems, has banded together in a national effort called Liberal Education and America’s Promise—or LEAP.
Students should and do major in a broad array of subjects, from the humanities to the sciences to health fields and business. LEAP emphasizes the need to have all academic fields foster the hallmark outcomes of a good liberal education: big picture thinking, anchored in the perspectives of arts and sciences disciplines; top level intellectual skills; examined values, both personal and civic; complex problem solving abilities. The outcomes of a liberal education are essential for everyone and they extend beyond the liberal arts fields alone. They can and should be fostered in every discipline, and across the entire educational experience.
Why is liberal education on the rebound? As Newsweek’s piece recognizes, the habits of mind fostered by a liberal education have never been more important to the economy—or better rewarded by the economy. In fact, Georgetown University economist Anthony Carnevale argues that there is a “wage premium” for the "cross-cutting capacities” that a liberal education fosters. And liberal education is equally important to the future of a free society with global responsibilities. Without a liberal education, students will be ill-prepared either for the economy or for knowledgeable citizenship. A quality education isn’t just about what students choose as their majors.
“The death of liberal education” would be the death of American prosperity, American leadership, and American democracy. Fortunately, liberal education is taking an important new turn, and Newsweek readers deserve to know it. You can find out more about liberal education and its “wage premium” at www.aacu.org/leap.
Carol Geary Schneider
Association of American Colleges and Universities