“A Liberal Arts Education” (NY Times Letter to the Editor)

December 20, 2012. Gov. Rick Scott’s “push for vocation-specific majors should not absolve education leaders from the obligation of ensuring a rigorous liberal arts foundation.”

Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/opinion/a-liberal-arts-education.html?_r=0

To the Editor:

Florida is the latest state to propose offering incentives for college students toward “high demand” majors, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and health care fields (“To Steer Students Toward Jobs, Florida May Cut Tuition for Select Majors,” news article, Dec. 10).

This makes sense, particularly for businesses struggling to find employees with the skills to succeed in today’s high-tech economy. But American competitiveness also depends on students’ acquiring a wide range of general knowledge that provides critical thinking and communication skills that will enable graduates to take up new jobs — jobs that we can’t imagine today.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person held 11 different jobs between ages 18 and 46. Employer surveys, moreover, show that graduates lack basic competencies that a liberal arts education provides.

Gov. Rick Scott is correct: Florida’s higher education needs reform. However, the push for vocation-specific majors should not absolve education leaders from the obligation of ensuring a rigorous liberal arts foundation.

ANNE NEAL
President, American Council
of Trustees and Alumni
Washington, Dec. 10, 2012