U.S. Liberal Arts Colleges not Living Up to their Hype

In the realm of academic quality and campus management, some of the nation’s most elite colleges are not enforcing policies they have touted as de rigueur for the running of their campuses for many years.  ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) has released a report that in the areas of spending, staffing, curriculum, and free speech, these well-respected schools have fallen short.

Many have failed to restrain administrative bloat and high spending, few provide a solid foundation of core courses, and most severely restrict free speech on campus.  And all the while, Great Recession notwithstanding, the sticker price of tuition has continued to climb sharply upward.

The report, Education or Reputation?: A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges,  examined 29 institutions—nationally ranked as the top liberal arts institutions in the nation—in areas including educational quality, tuition trends, spending patterns, endowment and speech codes.

These colleges continue to raise tuitions, pay their administrators exorbitant salaries, yet fail to include courses in American history; in most cases, even one course in economics; and often omit a literature course.  In addition, college loans are causing students to graduate with a debt level between 12,000 and 25,000.

The report also offers suggestions to turn this problem around.  ACTA would like to see a war against grade-inflation; the institution of a curriculum that employers and the American public approve based on its relevancy; and using campus buildings in a more effective manner to contribute to cost efficiency.

In 1956, Bell Laboratories tracked the careers of their staffs who had experienced different types of  academic preparation.

Over a 20-year period with the company, liberal arts majors progressed more rapidly and in greater percentage than other staff. Bell’s report, released in 1981, concluded:

There is no reason for liberal arts majors to lack confidence in approaching business careers. The humanities and social science majors in particular continue to make a strong showing in managerial skills and have experienced considerable business success. We hope and expect this to continue.

In the 21st century, many college students have elected to follow the path of specialization, by way of  communication and business majors, for example.  The idea of narrowing the scope of a college education to one field in lieu of a broader, more far-reaching course of study, is still looked upon by many in the field of education as a mistake.  The cost of such a choice, say educators, is that, as Cardinal John Henry Newman attests in his book The Idea of the University, ” a liberal education is not only preparation for all careers, but it is a preparation for living in and serving a community”. Liberal arts schools build, says Cardinal Newman,  intellect and character.

However, according to the ACTA report, top liberal arts institutions have turned away from rigorous and challenging study, and , instead, have water-down their course offerings.  Many have instituted policies that disregard the nurturing of open questioning and free speech on these campuses, and most are charging students higher tuition, at the same time.

ACTA hopes that this report will encourage faculties, administrations, trustees, alumni, and students to turn the tide and give back these reputable schools their integrity.


01 28, 2014
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