From assertions that we need more welders and fewer philosophers to proposals that students at “non-elite” institutions should not receive federal student loans for majoring in the humanities, critics suggest that a liberal education is not only frivolous, but downright un-American.
Supplanting the notion of college as a public good with the idea that earning power is the only legitimate reason for pursuing a degree drastically undermines our nation’s historic commitment to educating citizens for democracy: the concept that all students are entitled to the full promise of American higher education.
If we hope to redress this trend, those of us within the academy must be willing to engage in an honest and radical reckoning with the extent to which we have failed to take seriously the concerns of those who are raising questions about the worthiness of public and private investments in higher education, concomitantly reinforcing a false dichotomy between a pragmatic education and a liberal education.
In response, we must enlarge the national conversation about access to embrace the many ways in which liberal learning and inclusive excellence enrich us all. To do so, faculty and administrators in higher education must partner with K-12 educators, leaders of business and industry, government officials at the state and national levels, and citizens from all walks of life to explore and enact new, innovative approaches demonstrating the true value of liberal education and the importance of eradicating social inequities in order to make excellence inclusive.
We must restore public trust in higher education, and in doing so, we must begin on our own campuses.