Is the Future of Liberal Arts Degrees in the US Uncertain?
In recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in the pursuit of liberal arts degrees in the United States. This shift is primarily attributed to the growing preference for specialized, career-oriented programs. The repercussions of this trend are exemplified in the recent decisions made by institutions like West Virginia University.
West Virginia University’s board of trustees made a significant decision to discontinue the school’s world languages department and a third of its education department. This move is part of an effort to make the university more “accessible, affordable, and relevant,” as stated by the board chair. However, it raises pertinent questions about the future of humanities studies in the US, especially in economically challenged states.
The university had already undertaken austerity measures earlier in the year, including program cuts and staff reductions. The recent decision translates into over 140 faculty members losing their jobs and the discontinuation of 28 majors, which amounts to approximately 8% of the university’s academic programs. This decision highlights the severity of the university’s financial difficulties, marked by a daunting $45 million budget deficit.
Broader Trends in Higher Education
West Virginia University’s situation is not unique but aligns with broader trends in higher education. For instance, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point faced declining enrollment in liberal arts programs. In 2018, it garnered attention when it announced plans to eliminate humanities and social science majors due to low enrollment and budgetary constraints.
Factors Behind the Decline
- One significant factor contributing to the decline of liberal arts degrees is the growing preference for specialized, career-oriented programs. In today’s rapidly evolving job market, students are increasingly inclined towards degrees that offer direct pathways to employment and higher earning potential. Fields such as business, engineering, and technology have experienced surges in enrollment, while traditional liberal arts disciplines have struggled to compete.
- Critics argue that liberal arts graduates often encounter challenges in securing employment directly related to their majors. This perception has led to questioning the value of these degrees, with more emphasis placed on programs perceived as having stronger connections to specific career paths.
- The decline in liberal arts degrees underscores the evolving landscape of higher education in the US, where students are seeking education that aligns with the demands of the job market and the potential for career advancement. However, this shift prompts discussions about the role and enduring value of a well-rounded, liberal arts education.