Something crazy is happening in education, including rising prices, an unwise attack on the liberal arts, and a large and growing partisan divide on the value of education itself.
I keep reading articles about the vanishing of he Humanities, often with attended “debunking” of the reasons for the shift. For instance, the Washington Post ran a large article on parents who refuse to let their kids study liberal arts just last week. Inside Higher Ed has been cataloging the shrinking Humanities major for years, noting in an article from March of 2016 that:
As a percentage of all bachelor’s degrees, the core disciplines in the humanities disciplines fell in 2014 to their lowest recorded level, 6.1 percent, in all years going back to 1948, the period for which the academy has reliable numbers. As recently as the early 1990s (well after STEM fields were open to women and many preprofessional programs grew), the equivalent figure was 8 percent. The highest level ever was 17.2 percent in 1967.
So what’s going on here? You can read the article for yourself, but the trend is really ugly if, like me, you believe that education is an inherent good. As if the shrinking majors weren’t bad enough, this ugliness seems to be partisan. A poll from July by Pew noted a growing (and I would argue alarming) trend in Republican circles. That education is not unnecessary but that it is actually bad:
A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.
What are we to make of this? You can get a good job without a college degree. There are good jobs still in the trades. There’s many ways to make it happen. But, in my own experience and from empirical evidence, it is much harder. I think rich, educated people are telling the poor slobs that they don’t need “no goddamn education.” And it seems to be working. I expect that we are throwing away a lot of potential at the moment, with more to follow.
I grew up in a very Republican home in a rightwing, small town. In my childhood, education was viewed as a way out by most people, including my own folks. My own education has allowed me to travel, grow and learn. I believe in life-long learning. I also became more liberal. I wonder what my folks would say about my education now.
Anyway you slice it, I see these trends as bad news.