Don’t forget the liberal arts

Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

By RICK BARTH / Guest Columnist

In both his State of the Union address from February and in the proposed 2014 federal budget he announced, President Barack Obama makes a strong push for focusing more resources on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

This is not surprising, considering the president has emphasized the importance of STEM education since early in his first term. And, he should, as improving STEM education in our country is critical to our success as a nation and as a global competitor.

The problem, however, is that we are beginning to see a pattern of the president promoting STEM education at the expense of liberal arts programs.

At a time when our national debt exceeds $16 trillion and many are questioning the value of a college education, I understand the president’s focus on STEM education and on trimming the educational budget. But, as Jon Meacham once stated when writing for Newsweek magazine, “cutting the liberal arts is a false economy.”

Early in my career in higher education, I worked in the area of career placement. During those years a common theme I heard from employers was that they were looking for individuals who were creative, were problem solvers, and could write and speak clearly and effectively. In other words, they were looking for strong liberal arts students.

As we have seen in today’s increasingly globalized world, individuals with a strong liberal arts education have provided companies and organizations the workforce they need to succeed in the global economy. More Fortune 500 CEOs have had bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts than professional degrees, and the same is true for doctors and lawyers.

STEM education is important. There is no doubt about that. But, our country owes the economic benefits it has reaped over its history as much to the liberal arts as to the STEM areas. Therefore, let’s not forget that every academic program that has contributed to making this country great deserves our attention and support, not just those in which we currently we have a shortage of employees.

Dr. Rick Barth is the vice president for enrollment management at the University of Montevallo.