What is the Value of Liberal Arts?
By Catherine Ahmad
Repeated incessantly are the doubts about applying to a liberal arts college. It has been plastered on the covers of magazines, made headlines on the evening news; members of academia have raised valid criticism. Is it worth the expense? How exactly does a liberal arts degree prepare you for a career? Is college even worth it? Even being accepted to a high-ranking institution such as this one does not cause such doubts to dissipate. It came as no surprise that our President would address such concerns during our Convocation this fall. The fear is prevalent and universal.
Superficially, all college students could just study computer science and engineering, but what we gain from a liberal arts education, and more specifically, this institution, goes beyond what can be measured in facts and statistics. How can we put a value on honor? How do you measure the price of discipline? What is the worth of being a well-rounded person? Can you put a rate on the ability to think differently?
The Minerva Project, which just opened its doors this academic year, has labeled itself a “modern” liberal arts college. Within their classrooms, students are expected to answer each question posed by the professor with their responses displayed on a computer screen platform for all to see. None of their classes are lecture-based, and no class has more than 19 students. Furthermore, as the Project adds campuses in various regions of the world, students will spend each year in a different city to have an encompassing international experience. However, it is important to note that Minerva will hardly have any other facilities besides its dorms. It will not construct a library, dining hall, or gym. Furthermore, there will be no sports teams. Instead, students will be expected to use the public facilities offered by the city should they need to head to the library.
While the Minerva Project does address some valid faults within the liberal arts education such as the expense and outdated teaching methods, there is a loss of experience when college becomes a series of online interactions. The belief that online institutions are the wave of the future is short-sided. In fact, the dropout rate for online classes is 95 percent (Wood, 59). Without doubt, this new, innovative system is not without its own set of flaws.
We should also be cautious of supporting a system that eliminates everything but dorms from its facilities. There is value in buildings where we congregate and debate. If anyone should doubt this, he should only need to walk down to the colonnade and know that he has developed an intrinsic connection to those layers of cement and brick. Perhaps it is not rational or reasonable, but we cannot undermine the value of an academic environment.
In the same way, we cannot overlook the value of the Honor System that has been established here. We cannot overlook the universal trust that exists within this community. Our doors are left unlocked, our bags open, and our belongings are often left outside unattended. We present work that is our own. We are a part of a community where we all earn our degrees.
This is not to say that everyone should have a liberal arts education. Nor is it to present a liberal arts education as immaculate. But for those who seek to learn more about other subjects that might foster a life-long passion rather than a degree, for those who strive to view the world through various lenses, for those who crave late-night philosophical debates while consuming saturated carbohydrates, there is a place for you. It is a place where a login to an online platform is not required.