Explaining Southern California's economy

The crisis in liberal arts college education

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College may not be worth it for some students

Kenneth Anderson has a long-ish post about the declining return on a liberal arts — versus a "science, technology, engineering, mathematics" (STEM) — education. The gist of it is that liberal arts isn't necessarily a bad investment, but that the market for lib arts has been weakened by changes in the economy — and by higher ed's inability to educate graduates for what the market actually needs. That is, verbal analysis and basic quantitative skills.

As Anderson puts it: "The traditional promise of the quality humanities or liberal arts major — not a technical skill set, but generalist analytic skills in reading, writing, basic maths, and strong communications skills — has somehow eroded and colleges fail to convey those skills."

There's another problem, which is that if you invest in this unmarketable education, you wind up spending more than you can realistically expect to earn back, because the value of liberal arts skills has been so relentlessly degraded. And guess what? The entire economy is now stuck with a low-growth future. This is fueling the notion — one I find fairly repellent — that too many people are going to college and that we should reshape the university system along more overtly elitist lines.