Why American Liberal-Arts Colleges Ain’t What They Used to Be

by George Leef

Fifty years ago, a degree from almost any of America’s liberal-arts colleges meant something. It was pretty good evidence that the student had fairly well honed communication skills and had developed an analytical cast of mind. The degree demonstrated trainability and the refinement needed for most work.

Today, however, many of our liberal-arts colleges have fallen on hard time, both financially and academically. Lots of them are up to their ears in debt and offer a curriculum that’s a hodge-podge of trendy courses. It’s clear that many liberal-arts students can’t write or speak worth a darn and have serious attitude problems. What has gone wrong?

Professor John Seery of Pomona College has given that question a lot of thought and in a new Martin Center article – which is drawn from a longer essay published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute — he explains why liberal-arts college are so valuable and why many are in trouble.

One reason is that many liberal-arts college presidents have no familiarity with this sort of institution. They are climbers who don’t have any great love for liberal-arts colleges, but do love the high compensation and perks that come with the job.

Another reason is administrative bloat. The Martin Center has long complained about that problem and Professor Seery gets down into the numbers at his school. Over the quarter century he has been there, the student body has grown by 12 percent and the ranks of administrators has grown 384 percent. That is part of the reason why tuition has gone up more than 250 percent.

Seery concludes, “Tuitions are skyrocketing and educational integrity has been compromised because administrators, not educators, now run the show.”

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