What about liberal arts?

President Obama wants community colleges to become workforce training centers, writes a dean. What about liberal arts? What about higher education?

College isn’t just for snobs. Workers need high-level skills — and a credential — to get a decent job.

BA = ’50s high school diploma, asserts ‘Worthless’

Aaron Clarey’s Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major is a “hilarious primer for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and theater interns after graduation,” writes Charlotte Allen on Minding the Campus.

Worthless degree.pngDon’t waste time, money and your parents’ credit rating on a bachelor of arts degree, Clarey advises. Only a bachelor of sciences will enable graduates to earn a living. Yes, that takes math.

Assuming a student might pay $30,000 in tuition (presumably at a state university) for a foreign language degree, Clarey explains how to save $29,721: Buy language software. How to save the full $30,000 on a women’s studies degree: Watch daytime TV.

With everyone going to college, regardless of talents or interests, “today’s college degree is the equivalent of the 1950′s high school diploma,” Clarey writes.

The humanities have destroyed their value by politicizing their fields, argues Allen. When English majors can skip Shakespeare for “post-colonial feminist film,” employers will “write off English majors as airheads.”

President Obama is a “snob” for pushing the college-for-all message, said Rick Santorum. (Remember “egghead?”) Not everyone wants or needs college, said Santorum, who holds a law degree.

While Obama identifies with professors, Santorum identifies with students oppressed by liberal academics, writes Ann Althouse, herself a law professor.

. . . every young person in America — regardless of their cultural and economic background — needs to see clearly that they can get a higher education. . .  They should to go to college for a good reason, and one particularly good reason is to study science and engineering. If they are going to study in some softer, less career-oriented area, the mushy notion that everybody ought to go to college is not enough, even if the President of the United States tells them it is.

Actually, Obama is pushing college as workforce training and science ‘n math education very hard these days.

Study liberal arts, get a job

Students who learn to write and analyze in liberal arts classes will succeed in the workforce, an English professor argues on Community College Spotlight.

Students want jobs? Teach ‘em to write.

I majored in English and creative writing.

ROTC plus global studies

Columbia University’s faculty senate passed a pro-ROTC resolution Friday. The Army is interested in restoring ties with Columbia. A Navy unit also is a possibility.

Navy ROTC is returning to Harvard.

Stanford’s faculty is reviewing the issue. A student group is rallying opposition to bringing ROTC back on campus on grounds the military discriminates against transgendered people.

Dickinson College in Pennsylvania may expand its ROTC curriculum, if the Army agrees, to include four years of foreign language, cultural immersion, a semester or year’s worth of study abroad and a concentration in global security studies, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The move was inspired by an e-mail from a Dickinson ROTC graduate who majored in Middle Eastern history and now leads an infantry platoon in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Talking with village elders, he recited the first chapter of the Koran, which he’d learned in a class.

Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote.

University president William Durden, a 1971 graduate of Dickinson’s ROTC program,  believes officers need more than training in operations and tactics. “We have young lieutenants running cities.”

The Mellon Foundation is funding partnerships between liberal arts colleges and military institutions of higher education. Dickinson will collaborate with the nearby U.S. Army War College, Bard, Union and Vassar colleges with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, St. John’s College with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and Colorado College with the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Bard and West Point have shared an “odd-couple relationship” for years, said Jonathan Becker, Bard’s vice president for international affairs and civic engagement.

. . . students sometimes attend classes at each other’s institutions, faculty travel to deliver guest lectures, and students and professors from both colleges mix sides to debate political issues.

West Pointers and Bard students have no trouble getting along, Becker said. “Twenty-year-olds enjoy meeting and learning with other 20-year-olds.”

Gates v. Jobs on liberal arts

While Bill Gates urges governors to invest in college disciplines”that actually produce jobs,” Apple founder Steve Jobs says “it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

New York Times’ Room for Debate asks which college drop-out is right?

After the first 10 years, liberal arts majors catch up to graduates in career-oriented majors, writes Edwin Koc of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

In 2010, the average offer to a computer science major was $60,473; the average offer for a history major was $38,731.

. . . Once in a career path, the more general skills of communication, organization and judgment become highly valued. As a result, liberal arts graduates frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation.

Only 39 percent of U.S.-born technology CEOs hold engineering, computer or math degrees, responds Vivek Wadhwa,  director of research at Duke’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization.

Humanities students learn to write, a critical skill for the business world, argues Mark Bauerlein, an Emory English professor.

To be honest, some humanities majors learn to write.

Employers pay a premium for business majors, but humanities majors will be worth more, argues Richard Vedder of the Center on College Affordability and Productivity.

. . .  in the core business areas of management and marketing, I have long felt that the instruction is largely of limited intellectual content and little practical utility – people can learn how to sell wickets or manage a small group of employees just as well by studying engineering, communications, history, or, for that matter, mortuary science. . . . Salary data suggest that earnings rise dramatically with age, suggesting much “learning” is done on the job, and students studying intellectually weak and information-deprived courses in business are not going to have the critical thinking skills that might assist in the post-graduate learning-by-doing process.

Business is the most popular college major, followed by psychology, nursing, biology, education, English, economics, communications, political science and computer science, according to the Princeton Review.

The most profitable majors are: engineering, economics, physics, computer science, statistics, biochemistry, math, construction management, information systems and geology, says WalletPop.

On Payscale’s list of degrees with the best mid-career pay, a government degree is the top earner that isn’t math-centric. Business majors aren’t high on the list.

Surprise! Engineering beats English in pay

Surprise! Engineering graduates earn more than liberal arts grads, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Graduates with engineering degrees averaged $56,000 in their first full-time jobs out of college, compared to $34,000 for Communications and English majors. Computer science majors start at $50,000.

[MAJORPAY]

The PayScale survey included 11,000 people who graduated between 1999 and 2010. The reported starting pay was adjusted for inflation to make the salaries of graduates from different years comparable.

While accounting and economics majors do fairly well in their first job, business and marketing majors don’t earn much more than social sciences and liberal arts majors.

The analysis looks at starting pay for people with four-year degrees. It does not look at pay for people who earn master’s or professional degrees.

Liberal arts for Bell execs

In The ‘Learning Knights’ of Bell Telephone, Wes Davis tells of Bell’s decision to expose its junior executives — many of them with only technical training — to the liberal arts.

The sociologist E. Digby Baltzell explained the Bell leaders’ concerns in an article published in Harper’s magazine in 1955: “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.

In 1952, Bell set up the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives, a 10-month immersion in the liberal arts, at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to lots of reading, executives went to museums, art galleries and concerts. Bell men listened to leading intellectuals, including poets W. H. Auden and Delmore Schwartz, the Princeton literary critic R. P. Blackmur, the architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the composer Virgil Thomson.

When the students read “The Lonely Crowd,” the landmark 1950 study of their own social milieu, they didn’t just discuss the book, they discussed it with its author, David Riesman. They tangled with a Harvard expert over the elusive poetry in Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Cantos,” which had sent one of the Bell students to bed with a headache and two aspirin.

The capstone of the program, and its most controversial element, came in eight three-hour seminars devoted to “Ulysses.”

. . . prepared by months of reading that had ranged from the Bhagavad Gita to “Babbitt,” the men rose to the challenge, surprising themselves with the emotional and intellectual resources they brought to bear on Joyce’s novel.

At the end of the 10 months, graduates said they were reading more widely and “were more curious about the world around them.” They found it easier to see multiple sides to any given argument. But “while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities,” David writes. Bell ended the institute in 1960.

A classical education

A graduate of the very demanding Classical High School in Providence, Rhode Island, Stanley Fish reviews three books that call for a return to teaching classics and the humanities.

Leigh Bortin, a homeschooling advocate, author of  The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, calls for using “classical skills to study classical content.”

By classical skills she means imitation, memorization, drill, recitation and above all grammar, not grammar as the study of the formal structure of sentences (although that is part of it), but grammar as the study of the formal structure of anything: “Every occupation, field of study or concept has a vocabulary that the student must acquire like a foreign language . . . . A basketball player practicing the fundamentals could be considered a grammarian . . . as he repeatedly drills the basic skills, of passing dribbling, and shooting.” . . .

“Classical content” identifies just what the subjects to be classically studied are. They are the subjects informed and structured by “the ideas that make us human” — math, science, language, history, economics and literature, each of which, Bortins insists, can be mastered by the rigorous application of the skills of the classical Trivium, grammar, the study of basic forms, logic, the skill of abstracting from particulars and rhetoric, the ability to “speak and write persuasively and eloquently about any topic while integrating allusions and examples from one field of study to explain a point in another.”

Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher, classicist, ethicist and law professor, attacks the stress on applied skills and the denigration of the humanities as “useless frills.”

Finally, there’s Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

 Ravitch’s recommendations are simple, commonsensical and entirely consonant with the views of Bortins and Nussbaum. Begin with “a well conceived, coherent, sequential curriculum,” and then “adjust other parts of the education system to support the goals of learning.” This will produce a “foundation of knowledge and skills that grows stronger each year.” Forget about the latest fad and quick-fix, and buckle down to the time-honored, traditional “study and practice of the liberal arts and sciences: history, literature, geography, the sciences, civics mathematics, the arts and foreign languages.”

In short, get knowledgeable and well-trained teachers, equip them with a carefully calibrated curriculum and a syllabus filled with challenging texts and materials, and put them in a room with students who are told where they are going and how they are going to get there.

A classical education worked for Fish. Would it work for all students?

In a similar vein, David Brooks urges college students to study liberal arts so they can “befriend The Big Shaggy” (the id?).

Humanities professors are worried about their place in the university:  When only the accountanting majors and the engineers are getting job offers, whither queer theory?

The Great Brain Race: Many winners?

Ben Wildavsky’s The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World will be published this month.

In an interview with Insider Higher Ed, Wildavsky argues the globalization of universities is inevitable and potentially a win-win.

In the near term, we shouldn’t lose site of the fact that we remain hugely dominant – we have a disproportionate share of top researchers, 70 percent of the world’s Nobel winners, hold most of the top slots in global college rankings, and so on. We also pass an important market test, continuing to attract the lion’s share of top international students. That said, patterns of mobility could well change, and with so many new and improved universities in other nations focusing on science and engineering, that seems likely to be an area where we might lose ground.

. . . From a U.S. point of view, where we are likely to remain very strong is in our creative spark, in academia and beyond. This is something other nations urgently wish to emulate – our ability to innovate, and to use research discoveries in entrepreneurial ways.

In many competitor nations, universities have no “liberal arts tradition,” Wildavsky says. “A few are trying to change that, but for now our ability to ask questions, to challenge the conventional wisdom, to be nonconformist at times, is likely to continue to be an area where we stand out.”