Making The Case

One of the aspects always touted about a liberal arts education is that it teaches students how to muster diverse forms of evidence to make a compelling case in favor of a position through written, verbal and other mediums.

It would logically follow that if any group were going to dominate the conversation about the role and purpose of college, it should probably be those in the liberal arts.

Yet it’s safe to say that, for the past few years, liberal arts colleges and the idea of liberal education have been losing the message war about the purpose of a college education, what a good education looks like and how education should fit into the fabric of the nation.

Job preparation dominates the agenda of philanthropic groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates and Lumina Foundations, as well as the White House’s agenda for postsecondary education. Research universities’ massive open online courses, which have occupied a prominent place in news media reports about higher education this year, are redefining what it means to educate students. The homepage of Coursera, one of the major MOOC providers, touts “Take the World's Best Courses, Online, For Free.” The STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math, many of them liberal arts disciplines themselves — are often promoted with no mention of the other components of a liberal education.

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