The liberal arts major is actually the highest-enrollment major on my campus, even though it’s probably the least well-defined. Broadly speaking, it attracts the type A students who intend to transfer to the better four-year colleges en route to professional careers, and the type C students who take it for lack of any better ideas. It’s the home of most of our Honors students, and it’s simultaneously the default major for students who don’t know what they want. It’s the program for the purists, and it’s the program for the folks who just want to get their gen eds out of the way, as they inevitably put it.The way it's currently set up, however, renders it as unsuitable for the purposes of the students, whether grade-improving careerists seeking to transfer, or nontraditional careerists seeking a human capital upgrade.
It’s structured like the classic Chinese menu, with generous helpings of electives in various disciplines. Beyond a few basic requirements -- the composition sequence, notably -- students can fulfill most of it with choices from within categories. You can take multiple philosophy classes or none at all; you can build a mini-major in psychology or avoid it altogether.Where there are transaction costs, institutions ought be evolving to conserve on them. The way forward might be to ensure that no matter what sort of careerism the students might be engaged in. There's a University Diaries post I flagged, about the same time the Everything Else Major post appeared, that, while making the more traditional case for Playing With Big Ideas, also suggests the value of one Liberal Arts core for each student, irrespective of institution, irrespective of aspirations.
Maybe most people in college are careerists; but [Wash U.'s Eve] Samborn speaks for many when she laments the absence of something she’s right to want and expect in college: An atmosphere of sustained and excited and subversive discourse about foundational human questions (And so: Life is justified.). She worries about “what kind of educated people we will become if we have not given sufficient thought to the world.”Also from about that time, the National Association of Scholars asked,
Might students be telling us that they want their colleges to help to develop the capacity to tell good from bad arguments? Might the solution be to restore the search for accuracy and truth to the center of the educational enterprise?That sounds like yet another skill set that transfers. Never mind the nature of the matriculants' careerism, developing a working jive detector and participating in that "sustained and excited and subversive discourse" ought to be something offered to incoming students, whether at a community college, or a regional comprehensive, mid-major, or land grant, or the state flagships or the institutions with the U.S. News problem.