Are technical colleges going to largely replace art and liberal arts schools?

I just read this article in The Atlantic that says politicians pretty unanimously agree that students need more technical training. The article says some politicians argue that the government shouldn't fund non-technical colleges or help students that go to those schools.


Matthew Phelan, Journalist, former Chemical Engineer, proud Houseplant Owner of three

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This is a valid concern and a genuine possibility—as dystopian as that might seem.

For example, Time magazine recently reported on a policy in Japan that encouraged universities in that country to "focus on disciplines that 'better meet society’s needs,'" meaning exactly this kind of shift toward more technical, applied science, and math training and other "skilled trade" varieties of education. The policy didn't meet with anything like total compliance or acquiescence, however. The president of Shiga University, Takamitsu Sawa, called the proposal “outrageous” and the government ministers proposing it “anti-intellectuals” in her op-ed for the Japan Times.

An important consideration here in America, is that liberal arts and humanities departments are feeling a pincer-like pressure from two sides: it's not simply politicians who are seemingly opposed to funding liberal arts and humanities education, but students themselves are flocking to the more technical degrees. (There's a New York Times article from 2013 about this issue of student interest at Stanford, and the problem it has posed for their liberal arts and social sciences programs.)

I think, arguably, this trend against a well-rounded liberal arts education is pretty poisonous to the basic tenets of democracy and its requirement of having an informed populace, and it's hard to imagine fine arts, liberal arts, humanities, or social science departments disappearing overnight. It's impossible to predict the future, but I think it's inarguable that we'll be making this decision collectively as a society with the officials we elect to state and federal office, with our personal choices of college majors, with our weight as alumni donors, as activists, and the like.

Speaking as someone who double majored in Chemical Engineering and History as an undergrad, I can't recommend enough pursuing some kind of high-contrast dual degree track. I minored in English also, and I frequently noticed that the students pursuing just a liberal arts degree treated the reading as drudgery, whereas to me it felt like a nice break from some mentally taxing calculus problems. And, alternately, the math and science work would occasionally feel like fun Tetris-style puzzle-solving when I was tired of critically reading some complex rhetorical argument about medieval agrarian society (or whatever).

Ultimately, what I am saying, is that this is a credible threat and that it's up to us, by our individual choices and actions, to defend and maintain the intellectual and cultural traditions that the liberal arts, social sciences and humanities represent.

I hope this was helpful.

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M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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This wouldn't completely surprise me if it did happen. Even in high schools today, we are seeing many schools cut their art programs and sometimes music as well, whereas a greater emphasis is being placed on more technical applications such as computer programming, auto and wood shops, or robotics, etc. The curriculum for schools is also being geared much more towards informational texts, which often focus, by their very nature, on more technical language and skills developed in an informational context. I believe that the the idea of "learning for the sake of learning," or "thinking for the sake of thinking," even the study of philosophy, ethics and other similar fields is starting to hold much less weight because it doesn't always have a practical application in the working world. Less and less employers are seeing the importance of understanding Aristotle's theories, Kant's ethics, or even Freud's experiments, not to mention Virginia Woolf's world view or Emily Dickinson's particular way of seeing things. Employers want to know that you have a skill and you can execute it, period. Not that you are well-rounded, are a great thinker, or can be a sponge for information. These are qualities that seemed to carry much greater weight and credibility in the past. I agree with the above expert that our choices of majors in colleges will affect the future, but I think his point about politicians may be even more valid. It seems that universities are having funds cut left and right for certain specific areas of study, and are being very heavily funded for others. This has a lot to do with state and some times federal politics. Everything seems to come down to money, and if we follow the model of other countries like the ones in Asia and parts of Europe, we may see liberal arts become obselete in certain regions. While I think it is highly unlikely it would ever disappear in parts of the country like the Northeast (Ivy League, Amherst, etc.), I'm sure much of America's heartland and the south, etc. could see a much greater decline. I for one, hope this will never happen, but the technological and fiscally-based business worldmay dictate different terms. Let's hope not, but it's an interesting thing to ponder.

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