Global Perceptions of Liberal Arts Education

Reviewing the posts on my LinkedIn profile, I ran across this article about global perceptions of liberal arts education. I thought this report revealing, particularly as it highlights the differences between the US and our major economic competitors around the world. In short, it seems that in reaction to the economic recession of 2007, the United States has retreated from the broad-based education typified by the liberal arts. Instead, it has tightened its focus on what I would call job centered education. By way of contrast, economic entities like China and Europe seem to be doing precisely the opposite. So what is going on? Do they know something that our own policy-makers don't? I wish I knew, but it is certainly worth considering.

I should note two things about this report to place it in the proper context. First, I do not mean the term job centered education to be pejorative in the least. This type of education has a clear value to national and global economies, not to mention to human growth and development. Though my own education could be technically considered to fall within the liberal arts, my emphasis in Industrial/Organizational Psychology probably pushes it further into the job centered education category than is typical. This type of education simply has a slightly different goal than one in liberal arts education.

The second caveat I feel I should offer is probably more important than the first. This article suffers from a dearth of numbers. When its authors claim that a nation is embracing a certain types of education policy over another, they don't cite actual policy, enrollment numbers, or even attitude survey results. Rather these authors quote individuals that are considered knowledgeable about the topic. Certainly these quotes can be a vivid way of communicating a position and can be potentially persuasive in a certain way (see peripheral persuasion, and in this case Wikipedia was the most accessible source). For all their journalistic value, I do not consider the opinions of experts to be evidence for any claim, other than the fact they hold said opinion. Anecdotally, the American pivot away from liberal arts education certainly feels real to me, but I will not pretend to say this is true without showing you some numbers first.

All that aside, if any of what these authors claim approaches what is actually happening around the world, then this should be cause for concern. And not just to educators, but to our policy-makers and the constituents they represent (and we serve). By the way, thanks to Dr. McCluskey for sharing this article.