By Rob Fried
Jon Marcus’ New York Times Article “Radical Survival Strategies for Struggling Colleges,” turns out to be full of “strategies” that are far from “radical”. Non-elite colleges are losing ground for three reasons: fewer students are enrolling because of high tuition and fear of debt; most liberal arts degrees don’t provide entrepreneurial and organizational skills essential for well-paying careers; and few colleges reach out to help non-traditional high school students ready themselves for success in college.
Truly “radical” solutions would involve a rethinking and revitalization of what has been known as a “liberal education.” The best employers want liberal arts graduates but look for those who can create, work collaboratively, communicate well with diverse audiences, and carry out long-range projects—skills that are rarely taught, and even more rarely assessed, in liberal arts colleges.
Students from lower-income and working-class families deserve the opportunity to experience critical inquiry and to engage with fellow students from diverse backgrounds that a liberal arts college provides. But the inanities of much of what they experience in high school prevents them from taking charge of their learning. Struggling colleges need to partner with area high schools to mentor such students early on.
We need to explore new and affordable options for a college degree that combine the best of a traditional liberal education with the skills society demands. These options are surprisingly available if colleges can rethink outdated conventions and hire instructors who are passionate about teaching students who have not yet declared majors.