Education

Schools Slamming the Door on Liberal Arts Programs

Written by Richard Fossey

As reported by the Star Tribune a couple of weeks ago, the University of Minnesota will not accept new students into many of its liberal arts programs in the fall of 2021.

The university is stopping admission in twelve programs, including history, political science, theater arts, and gender studies. New enrollments will be limited to 15 other programs. No program outside the university’s college of liberal arts will be affected.

Universities across the nation are making similar decisions–cutting or reducing programs in languishing liberal arts disciplines.

Interest in the traditional fields of liberal arts has been declining for decades, and job opportunities in these disciplines have dwindled.

I recall sitting in Professor William Stott’s graduate-level American Studies class at the University of Texas more than 30 years ago. Professor Stott handed out the vitae of about a dozen candidates for a history professor’s job at UT. Every applicant had a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school: Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc.

Dr. Stott didn’t have to say anything to make his point. How can you compete with a Harvard Ph.D. holder for a professor’s position with your doctorate from a less prestigious public university?

I took the hint and went to law school. And I have never been sorry.

Without question, there will be fewer faculty positions for liberal arts professors in the years to come. Many of these positions are in second-and third-tier liberal arts colleges that are experiencing enrollment declines–especially those located in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states.

If you take out student loans to get a Ph.D. in history or political science, you will find yourself in serious trouble if you can’t find a position in your chosen field.

You may think a Ph.D. will get you an excellent job of some kind, even if you can’t find one in academia. But you may be wrong. Employers may be reluctant to hire an employee with a doctorate in medieval history, thinking that such a person is overqualified or will be unhappy working in a mundane bureaucratic job.

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Paul Campos, writing about the job market for lawyers in his brilliant little book Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), advised law students with mediocre grades at bottom-tier law schools to consider cutting their losses dropping out before graduating:

[G]iven the state of the legal market, most people at most law schools who find themselves in the bottom half of their class after the first year would be better off dropping out.

As bad as it would be to have student loans and no degree, he pointed out, it might be worse to take out more loans to get a J.D. and then be unable to find a job.

These are volatile and unstable times for American higher education–especially graduate education. Don’t be lured into an expensive master’s program or doctoral program with a vague sense that another university degree will somehow improve your job prospects.

You could be wrong–terribly wrong. And if you wind up with a graduate degree, no job, and six-figure student-loan debt, you will have doomed your financial future and perhaps the future of your family.




About the author

Richard Fossey

Richard Fossey is a professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana. He received his law degree from the University of Texas and his doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is editor of Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture.

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