The Corner

Education

How to Make Liberal Arts Education Far More Beneficial

Many college students derive little value from their liberal-arts courses. That is because, argues Ethan Ake-Little (a doctoral candidate at Temple University), most colleges allow liberal arts faculty to do whatever they want to with their courses — unlike STEM courses. In today’s Martin Center article, he argues for standardization of the liberal-arts curriculum. By that, he means standardization within schools, not some national standardization.

As Ake-Little sees it, the main problem is that liberal-arts courses are very inconsistent:

Standardization can fix that inconsistency by requiring content taught in core classes to be updated and reviewed, holding faculty to high teaching standards. Many universities still view faculty as self-governing and self-regulating, erroneously assuming that academics will improve their teaching methods independently without guidance or assistance.

College administrator ought to become active in ensuring that liberal-arts courses are taught robustly, that syllabi are up-to-date and that courses are ideologically neutral.

One important result of standardization would be to raise the level of intellectual discourse. Ake-Little continues:

Embracing standardization could also safeguard the free exchange of ideas and protect against what Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has called ‘the academic nanny state.’ It could generate better discussions around controversial issues such as sexual and gender identity, abortion, and climate change by building a curriculum that puts intellectual merit above ideological sound bites.

The higher-education business is becoming increasingly competitive and schools need ways of separating themselves from rivals. Restoring the liberal arts to prominence strikes me as one good means of doing so.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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