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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

September 16, 2014 at 7:05 AM

College: Requiring liberal arts education is counterproductive for some students

Whether the aim of higher education is to provide vocational skills or to enrich lives through exposure to the arts has been a matter of controversy for decades. A recent letter to the editor proposed incorporating liberal arts into the curriculum of every discipline in an effort to instill in graduates “a full appreciation of life” [“College education: Expand studies and minds,” Northwest Voices, Sept. 13]. And I fully agree that exposure to art, music, literature and philosophy does enrich life, but whether colleges should graduate students with marketable skills or with the ability to appreciate life is the crux of the issue.

Prior to World War II, higher education was the province of the elite; few middle-class youngsters had the means to attend college. The children of the wealthy had no need to acquire skills that would serve them in the world of jobs and mortgages. The GI Bill changed that: for the first time, the sons and daughters of bricklayers and bus drivers could enroll in universities and become part of the postwar expansion of an educated middle class.

Today, the expense of a college education has increased exponentially, and most students graduate with a mountain of debt. The priority for these students is rapid employment that would enable them to begin the long process of paying off their student loans. To add a broad base of the liberal arts to their educational requirements would necessitate either extending their time in school or eliminating some of the content of their major study, neither of which would serve them well in the context of their real-world needs.

Those students whose dreams, and means, include a full cultural life, should take advantage of the range of liberal arts courses offered by colleges and universities. For those students who want an education in order to land a job in a better-paying field, requiring a liberal arts curriculum in addition to their major course of study is counterproductive.

Bonnie Baffaro, Auburn

Comments | More in Education | Topics: Bonnie Baffaro, college, education

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