An article in today’s New York Times—“Making College ‘Relevant,'” by Kate Zernike—provides an insightful glimpse at recent attempts by colleges to tailor majors and courses directly for the 21st century job market—even at the expense of notoriously *unpractical* majors, like Philosophy:
Dropping a classics or philosophy major might have been unthinkable a generation ago, when knowledge of the great thinkers was a cornerstone of a solid education. But with budgets tight, such programs have come to seem like a luxury— or maybe an expensive antique — in some quarters.
When Louisiana’s regents voted to eliminate the philosophy major last spring, they agreed with faculty members that the subject is “a traditional core program of a broad-based liberal arts and science institution.” But they noted that, on average, 3.4 students had graduated as philosophy majors in the previous five years; in 2008, there were none. “One cannot help but recognize that philosophy as an essential undergraduate program has lost some credence among students,” the board concluded.
Admittedly, Wesleyan and its peer institutions feel pretty far removed from this trend; our Classical Civilization major isn’t at risk of being replaced by Business Administration any time soon. And appropriately, the article ultimately reads like an Admissions-approved endorsement for that special Wesleyan-brand liberal arts education.
And that’s fine, because it provides compelling and validating evidence that liberal arts majors can and should be wholly consistent with notions of “practicality” and, you know, “actually getting a job”:
The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers who hire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year colleges what they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrow focus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”
Except students today, Zernike argues, overly motivated by careerist ambition, aren’t buying it. Why?
“There’s no immediate impact, that’s the problem,” says John J. Neuhauser, the president of St. Michael’s College, a liberal arts school in Vermont. “The humanities tend to educate people much farther out. They’re looking for an impact that lasts over decades, not just when you’re 22.”
When prospective students and their parents visit, he says, they ask about placement rates, internships and alumni involvement in job placement. These are questions, he says, that he never heard 10 years ago.
Full article: Making College ‘Relevant’