There is a great and important piece in the WSJ from 6 June entitled “Are Humanities Degrees Doomed? Experts Weigh in.”

Hardly the first piece on the subject. Still, I wonder…

I believe we get distracted when we focus on what to major in. Promoting liberal education is not the same as—nor does it require—promoting particular majors. Majors have been in retreat for some time as colleges and universities have developed interdisciplinary programs.

“Liberal” Education is a model based on the overused term “critical thinking.” Whether we like it or not, engineers, accountants and physicists engage in critical thinking as much as English or Political Science majors. Successful, safe bridge building requires critical thinking as much as does thoughtful literary criticism.

The real issue that educators must face is that there is a difference between justifying the value of a liberal education and justifying the cost. While the former may be enduring, it is clear that the latter has become formidable in the eyes of many students and parents. As well, technology has made it easier for our children to learn how to acquire information and how to critique it at their own and at a younger age. It has democratized access to information regardless of one’s social class or wealth—in this regard, it is indeed, a triumph of liberal values.

So, back to the article: The question is not whether one should major in English, Philosophy, Engineering, Biology, Math…etc. Instead, the question higher ed must answer is: How much of each of those fields (and the many other fields of undergraduate study) necessary to liberally educating our young people? Is the four year, 120 credit, expensive, residential model of university life still absolutely necessary for everyone?

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