The Future of College and Liberal Arts

Sustainability is a problem in the face of every small liberal arts institution nationwide. While many of the problems discussed in Ferrall’s Liberal Arts at the Brink apply to larger and public schools, these things are especially true for small private colleges. The Liberal Arts is at stake most obviously because there is a dwindling amount of resources available to them. This drying of resources were heavily discussed by Selingo as he catalogued the disruptions of higher education, all collectively attacking small liberal arts colleges simultaneously. Hence, we see small liberal arts colleges such as Sweet Briar closing, due to a lack of resources to maintain facilities and compete with other colleges. This is not a revolutionary phenomena, given that even three decades ago “57 four-year private colleges had closed, 24 had merged, and 6 had become public” (Ferrall 37).

Ferrall sums it all up very well. Liberal Arts Colleges pride themselves on their “their residential campuses, small classes, full time tenured teaching faculties, lack of graduate student teaching assistants, expensive facilities (libraries, laboratories, athletics), and so on, provide the most expensive undergraduate education.” They use their abundance of these resources and mastery of it’s use to compete with the larger schools, however, this forces them to up the price on their cost of attendance, especially if they are suffering from a smaller endowment. This is when we see colleges “searching for six-figure donations and hoping for a seven-figure gift” (Ferrall 25) to keep their school alive.

At bottom, the (un)availability of resources is the thing putting liberal arts on the brink. Quite simply it comes down to money. If nobody is willing to invest in the wholesome and gainful education of students, then the students must invest in it for themselves (which could easily mean paying ~$70k a year out of pocket). This is a investment made impractical by the aforementioned disruptions of higher education that make this financial leap almost a waste. The competition between small liberal arts colleges and larger public colleges is not sustainable. With resources running quickly dry, Small liberal arts schools are being crippled by the fall in available resources and the consequent plummet of demand. Unless something is done to restore resources to institutions of higher education (specifically those of the liberal arts), then we will soon be witness to the death of the liberal arts education.

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