The Decline in the Liberal Arts by Lindsay Smith

In recent years the decline of the liberal arts in post-secondary education has been dramatic. Liberal arts colleges, departments, programs, majors, and funding have all seen declines. Enrollment numbers are low. Some smaller colleges are closing altogether. At the same time, support and interest in STEM and professional fields and careers have skyrocketed. An important issue in society today is the future of liberal arts at the college level.

Shifts in Bachelor's Degrees Awarded, by Discipline (
Shifts Within Humanities Majors (

Degrees awarded in the natural sciences have dramatically increased in the past 30 years, while those in the humanities have fallen.

What can be done?

Increase Funding
Funding should not be decreased for the liberal arts
  • Money should not be diverted away from liberal arts programs in order to incentivize STEM programs
  • If the liberal arts become too expensive to study because of a lack of state funding, only the wealthy and privileged elite will be able to afford a liberal arts education
  • Nontraditional degree programs, like summer courses, could decrease the time and money involved in getting a liberal arts degree
Increase Awareness
Support at the high school level for a greater awareness of all that a liberal arts education entails, from its critical thinking benefits to possible career options, must be increased
  • STEM degree-holders do have better job prospects than humanities degree-holders
  • However, many employers are looking for workers who can think critically and creatively, work well in a team, and communicate their ideas effectively, key components of the liberal arts
  • Not everyone is skilled at the math and sciences - they would perform better in a field best suited to their interests
  • Students in high school need to be given more information about choosing a career based on their interests, strengths, weaknesses, and job prospects for majors
Increase Affordability
A liberal arts education does not have to be overly expensive
  • Students will continue to desert the liberal arts if incentives are not put in place to encourage students to pursue a degree
  • Many small, traditional liberal arts colleges are slashing tuition rates in order to attract more students
  • Some Texas students can save up to $25,000 off the cost of a bachelor's degree through state programs that enable high school students to earn transferable college credit while in college
  • This is a part of Former Gov. Rick Perry's initiative to offer a bachelor's degree for $10,000
  • More plans like Perry's are needed in order to make a liberal arts degree a viable option


Created with images by Robert Cutts (pandrcutts) - "Foxhill from the west" • jasongillman - "michigan state capitol" • sebrenner - "Ishpeming High School Classroom" • tpsdave - "samford hall auburn university education"

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