Inside Higher Ed had a story last week that, while amusing, reflects the growing national uncertainty over what college is all about. Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said, “But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” He quickly noticed a gaffe-in-coming, and said, “Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree—I love art history.”
He thus joined three Republican politicians who have (to their embarrassment) suggested that some disciplines (e.g., anthropology) are flaky. Inside Higher Ed lists their statements, along with the president’s. Obama got a reprimand from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, but that was minimal compared to the uproar over North Carolina governor Pat McCrory’s put-down of gender studies.
My view, in a nutshell: The devaluation of the college diploma is serious enough that it does make sense to consider one’s major carefully, but the essential requirement is to learn how to think, write, and assess—whatever one’s major.