, Salem, MA


October 2, 2012

Column: Why it pays to be a fox

My students and their families are drowning. So are yours. According to a Pew Research report, one in five American families feels the undertow of student debt.

The overwhelming question: Has the tipping point been reached where college is no longer worth it?

Overwhelming question number two: If we even have to wonder about question number one, aren’t those science-free liberal arts majors wasting time and money?

After all, jobs are the holy grail of college. Do you doubt it? I welcome you to walk into my university classes and ask my students what they’re doing in college. They’ll tell you.

I like to think of myself as a job creator. I teach public relations. I have seen many of my students land jobs in PR agencies. I bring them back to give pep talks to my undergrads.

Still, I’m of two minds about the jobs thing. Once upon a time I was a corporate speech writer. I may have the mind of a policy wonk, but I’m liberal artsy at heart. Surprise! The two go together very nicely. I wrote my doctoral dissertation about a poet.

These days, I think a lot about the L word — as in liberal arts education. In the era of No Child Left Behind, standardized testing and unsustainable tuition costs, a liberal arts education has become the victim of brand erosion. In fact, it may have worse PR than liberalism itself.

What’s sexy is STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. Liberal arts education has lost its sex appeal.

Many of my colleagues cringe at the idea that they’re teaching what they derisively call ‘vocational school.’ But when I see my former students gainfully employed, I don’t cringe. I rejoice — and so do they.

Can we blame public opinion for dissing a liberal arts education? It’s dismissed as impractical. It’s anything but.

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