In defense of a liberal arts education

Shelly Gardner teaches a class in entrepreneurship at Augustana University.
Shelly Gardner teaches a class in entrepreneurship at Augustana University.

“Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature.”

The Washington Post headline writer did a nice job with that one, immediately causing me to click on a story last month.

The reporter, Steven Pearlstein, who also is a professor at George Mason University, wrote how his undergraduate students thanked him for the chance to read an 800-page biography of Andrew Carnegie.

When he asked how many of the 24 students were majoring in history, there were none. He asked about English, philosophy and fine arts. There was one.

When he wondered aloud how that was possible, a half-dozen students replied almost in unison: “Our parents won’t let us.”

“Parents are becoming more deeply engaged in nearly every aspect of their children’s lives,” Pearlstein continued. “And it’s carrying over even to their choice of major.”

The head of academic advising at Wake Forest University agreed.

“A lot of students feel pressure to major in business, economics or medicine, said Christy Buchanan, who referenced “helicopter parenting.”

These well-meaning parents are thinking about their children’s job prospects and ultimately the degree’s return on investment.

There’s a perception — and we’ve all done our part to create it — that skills in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math are the key to professional success in an increasingly technical marketplace.

And that’s partially true.

But last week’s Sioux Falls Business Journal cover story, reported by Megan Raposa, suggests that maybe we need to broaden our thinking.

To read more, click here.

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