Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Does it cost too much to be an educated person?

The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes both Higher Ed news and Opinion.  There's a debate brewing about how the value of a college degree is lessening.  With the cost of education rising (despite some folks arguing that the net tuition rate is lower due to the cost differential lowering.  I need to see more data before I concede that point), and the emphasis more and more being placed on the economic viability of an education, it would seem that for those students and family for whom college is a huge economic stretch, the school that can get you the job is the best school.

This begs the question, is it only the wealthy who can get a well rounded education?  Can only those who can afford to pay for a liberal arts degree with no direct economic advantage (other than the ability to expose young minds to the arts and sciences and critical thinking, and great ideas) get this kind of education?

Because as I dig into music and theatre conservatories and their curriculum, and how there is very little room for the liberal arts, I wonder are they just artistic trade schools?  And if they are, are they really doing a better job of educating our future artists for the world they will actually enter, and not the world artistic academia WISHES for (or is so out of date with, that they are educating students for a past reality), than their counterparts at universities with a stronger liberal arts core?

So do conservatories REALLY turn out more employable artists?


Paul Botts said...

"the emphasis more and more being placed on the economic viability of an education"
Hmm, really? Hasn't that argument been around forever? When and where exactly was the much-lamented golden age during which large numbers of worried parents didn't respond to all college-major ideas with "and what will you do with that?"
Not during my lifetime anyway. And until roughly World War II virtually _all_ 18-year-olds sent off to college in Western Europe and the U.S. were either (a) the most-talented kids who were deemed able to pursue specific professional paths like doctor, lawyer, opera singer or whatever, or (b) from wealthy families. The very notion of non-wealthy kids paying college tuition for four years without a specific job outcome intended was basically invented, or at least socially normalized, not that long ago. Which represents a massive widespread _reduction_ in emphasis on the economic viability of college education, surely far greater than any contrary swinging of the pendulum that may or may not have taken place more recently.

And if the above historical narrative pulled just now out of my ass is correct, then wouldn't that in the big picture explain why the cost of college has risen ahead of inflation for several generations now? Sharply and steadily expand the customer base for any given service and the overall cost of that service will in real dollars steadily increase, in the real world. (Public policies and other factors can shift where such an increased cost lands or gets distributed, but the basic dynamic of supply and demand will win out overall.)

Heather McCowen, Ph.D. said...

The point I was making (and not as clearly as I'd like to have made as I re-read my post) is that I'm getting more demand for concrete outcomes of a music / theatre conservatory education. With the rise of the for-profit institution (and their premise of, we get you your education without all that silly student development stuff- student centers, dorms, extracurricular activities) the purpose of your education is ONLY to get you a job. Not teach you how to think critically, not teach you how to learn new things on your own.

And this is different than 20 years ago before the increased specialization of academia. As more and more undergraduate programs specialize, they crowd out the liberal arts in the curriculum. And that's my point, we're cutting off our nose in the liberal arts, when it's those critical thinking skills, and training in the liberal arts that employers want to see.