Are liberal arts colleges disappearing?

Oct 10, 2012
Michigan State University scholar Roger Baldwin argues the decline of liberal arts colleges threatens to diminish America's renowned higher education system. Credit: Michigan State University

Liberal arts colleges continue redefining their historical missions or flat-out disappearing – a trend that threatens to diminish America's renowned higher education system, argues a study co-authored by a Michigan State University scholar.

Of the 212 liberal arts colleges identified in a landmark 1990 study, only 130 remain in their traditional form – a 39 percent reduction, according to the new research.

While some liberal arts schools have closed or become part of larger universities due to financial problems, Roger Baldwin, MSU professor of educational administration, said many others have changed their focus so dramatically they no longer retain a liberal arts identity.

"The diversity of U.S. is widely regarded as one of its strengths," Baldwin said. "But American higher education will be diminished if the number of liberal arts colleges continues to decline."

An American institution since the late 1700s, the liberal arts college is known for a curriculum based primarily in the arts and science fields (such as English, history and chemistry); small classes; and a strong emphasis on teaching and student development. Common goals of a liberal arts graduate include developing a meaningful philosophy of life or helping promote tolerance or understanding among diverse groups.

But many liberal arts colleges are evolving into career-oriented "professional colleges" where a large number of students major in professional fields such as business and nursing. The trend was highlighted in a 1990 study by David Breneman – a University of Virginia professor and former president of Kalamazoo College, a liberal arts college in Michigan – and replicated this year by Baldwin and colleagues.

"The trend Breneman first pointed out more than 20 years ago is continuing," the new study finds. "An increasingly smaller number of liberal arts colleges have been able to maintain a dominant arts and science emphasis."

The researchers urge U.S. academic leaders, policymakers and others to work toward saving liberal arts colleges.

"We should renew and reinvigorate these valuable institutions," the authors argue, "before liberal arts colleges disappear from the higher education landscape or shrink to the status of a minor educational enclave that serves only the elite."

Explore further: When identity marketing backfires: Consumers don't like to be told what they like

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Will psych majors make the big bucks?

Jun 08, 2011

A new crop of college graduates have just landed on the job market. Right now they're probably just hoping to get any job, if at all. However, for psychology majors, the salary outlook in both the short and long term is particularly ...

Mathematician Kenneth Cooke dies at 82

Sep 09, 2007

Kenneth Cooke, a mathematician who became a well-known researcher while teaching at a California liberal arts college, has died at age 82.

Recommended for you

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

16 hours ago

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dschlink
not rated yet Oct 10, 2012
Unfortunately,"a meaningful philosophy of life" doesn't payoff one's student loans.
Squirrel
not rated yet Oct 11, 2012
Their paper "Where Are They Now? Revisiting Breneman's Study of Liberal Arts Colleges" can be here
http://www.aacu.o...kker.cfm
Ange
not rated yet Oct 13, 2012
Overheard in Washington, D.C. In 1971:
"When Americans are more concerned with putting food on their tables, they won't have time to protest anything." This was the beginning of the Conservative Revolution, the results of which are boldly obvious today." --- An Anonymous Old Oldtimer

More news stories

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

(Phys.org) —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...