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A few conditions are meeting to create a “perfect storm” for traditional liberal arts education: the steady rise of large-scale online learning, seemingly inexorable tuition increases, and the “ROI” demands on college degrees. Can liberal arts survive in an age that seems to value efficiencies and returns, but not the slow, percolating effects of a classic liberal arts education? What are best practices for online liberal arts teaching? We welcome your thoughts and responses to these essays. We are also eager to read your brief thoughts and opinions, so be sure to leave your comments with any/all responses.
– Therese Mageau, Editorial Directors
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Ancient Greece considered the liberal arts to be necessary for a free person to participate in democracy and civic life. But in the Greeks’ day, there was only one place in the world with democracy. And even there, only a small percentage of the population was able to participate. Today, 123 nations have participatory democracy, accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population. If Aristotle were alive today, he’d likely imagine that to make that work, we must have developed massive global education systems for liberal education.
That’s why it’s been so frustrating to watch the evolution of a largely unsophisticated debate about the value of liberal arts education that’s pitted engineering fields against philosophy, literature, history and music—as though liberal studies and practical studies are somehow enemies, as though a world could possibly be in balance with one and not the other.
“The transition from education to employment used to be a bunny hop. Now, it’s a running leap—and the gap is only getting bigger.” That was the message delivered by Phil Gardner of Michigan State University at the Innovation and Disruption Symposium hosted by Colgate University last year. This growing chasm between education and employment is serving to magnify another chasm—the chasm between the liberal arts and STEM or other “vocational” education. Proponents of the liberal arts— of which we proudly count ourselves—can be forgiven for feeling defensive in the face of declining majors across departments, rising student loans, and pressure on post-college outcomes. However, the balkanized “either/or” debates of liberal arts versus STEM are not helping our students, our economy, or our society.
We would offer two bridges across the chasm that have historically been anathema in the liberal arts: better measurement and applied experiences.
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