“Game On” for the Liberal Arts

Picture of a lecture hall at a university

by Mary Dana Hinton, President, College of Saint Benedict

Over the past few years, the liberal arts have become an easy target in the current narrative about higher education. From politicians to parents we’ve heard a never-ending cry questioning the value of the liberal arts and bemoaning their “real world” applicability.

There is solid evidence that the long-term arc for students earning liberal arts degrees is overwhelmingly positive—personally, professionally and for our democracy. Those of us in higher education know this firsthand. Yet the prevailing narrative continues to focus on “hire-ability” and that first job out of college. There’s also a perception that liberal arts colleges take students away for four years and insulate them in a cocoon of academia before dumping them, unprepared, into the “real world.” Both of these are short-term views and provide a dangerously incomplete picture.

The Challenge: Making the Case

In fact, part of what has made the liberal arts so easy to attack is the general lack of response from within our sector. For many of us, the value of the liberal arts is so self-evident we likely never imagined a world in which we would have to not only promote, but defend, the value of critical and creative thinking, strong communication skills, an appreciation for diverse perspectives, and the various other outcomes associated with our work. And yet, this is the world within which we find ourselves.

We must be willing to directly confront and articulate the value proposition of liberal arts schools. We need to demonstrate both:

  1. That we can manage and help families manage the rising costs, and
  2. The fact that the outcome of a liberal arts education is of value and warrants the financial sacrifice needed.


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