story on the viability (or not) of liberal arts colleges in the current economy.
If you're reading this you probably already know that I attended Allegheny College, of the liberal arts variety, way back in the early 90s. Odds are pretty good that if you're reading this you met me there. You know ... back when nobody really worried about getting a job after graduation. Back when Freddie Mercury was still alive. Back before (way before) September 11th. Back when we each rode a magical unicorn to classes.
Anyway, the NPR story posits that in today's "uncertain economy" that many parents and students are avoiding liberal arts colleges for two reasons: they're unbelievably expensive and with a "degree in philosophy" graduating seniors are unemployable.
I don't know about your own college selection process. But, here's mine.* After colleges received my PSAT scores through whatever mega-database sells out college juniors, I began to receive brochures in the mail. I don't know if colleges even do this anymore. They probably send DVDs or flash drives. Anyway, these were elaborately produced, glossy, full-color packets. Lots of them. I had two stacks in my closet, each roughly four-feet high.
I distinctly remember one Saturday spending half the day purging the piles and narrowing down my college options to the top 15 or so most viable options. Some of my criteria were based on the type of education I wanted, so I eliminated technical or engineering-type schools. Some were based on environment, so I eliminated all colleges with student populations over 2500 or so. I threw out** every college west of the Mississippi or south of the Mason-Dixon line. Due to my strictly Protestant upbringing, I pitched just about everything with "St. Somebody" in the title.
At this point, I showed the options to my mom and we planned a summer vacation around touring colleges: Middlebury, Gettysburg, Albright, Lafayette, Vassar, Allegheny. After visiting the schools, without knowing the value of an interview or how to really understand what I wanted, other than by how my parents, particularly my mom, reacted to each college's atmosphere and tour ... I applied to Middlebury (wait-listed, not accepted), Gettysburg (accepted), Allegheny (accepted) and St. Olaf's near Minneapolis*** (never heard back from them at all).
So, I wound up at Allegheny. And it was the best. I loved the place. I loved taking classes in a variety of disciplines. I loved being around people who were like me and people who were nothing like me. I loved the small class sizes and close relationships with professors.
And when I graduated, I was not entirely unemployable. At least not in the long run. I admit, majoring in Communications and hoping to get a job in media, I really (really, really) should have done an internship somewhere. And, since Joe's career plans were very firm and mine were sort of a Monet painting .. I followed him to Philly and temp-ed. Which (along with the lovely NeXT computers at Allegheny) gave me invaluable computer experience.
Which is why I now teach computers.
So it all worked out in the end. I graduated with only $11,000 in debt. Which is very little considering the price of my alma mater.
Would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend a liberal arts education to my kids? Yes.
I think the idea of narrowing down your career path at age 17 is problematic. I think the idea of narrowing down your career options and general scope of knowledge based on the limitations of the focus of your choice of higher institution is less than ideal. I like breadth of experience. I like breadth of knowledge.
I just hope I can afford to provide the same thing for my kids. Ay, there's the rub.
* Let me start by saying that one of my chief skills is an uncanny ability to ace standardized tests. I took the the SATs in 7th grade and again at the traditional time, and took the PSATs in high school with my peers and was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist.I received a full scholarship, including room and board, to Bowling Green University. That sort of thing.
**It breaks my heart that this was before readily available recycling.
***What can I say? I love snow.