Opinion

A liberal arts education is a degree in B.S.

Ron Meyer Chairman, Refresh America PAC

A liberal arts education is a degree in B.S., and I’m not talking about a Bachelor of Science.

Instead of teaching students how to approach problems from a multidisciplinary perspective, today’s U.S. higher education system is teaching students how to deceive people.

Employers looking to hire hard-working, competent employees may want to think twice about the quality of a liberal arts education. According to a 2010 study from the Association of American College and Universities, employers desire workers with broad educations, but is this really what modern liberal arts programs are supplying?

As someone who is about to graduate from a well-regarded liberal arts school, I can firmly say no.

Most students like me spend more time figuring out how to “lie to get by” than putting in the time to produce real work. Websites like SparkNotes.com, coupled with some basic tricks of the student trade, enable us to excel in classes without really doing homework.

Whether it’s selective skimming, collaborating on homework, short-term cramming, or just using verbose words to impress teachers, students are constantly figuring out new ways to get out of homework. That’s why general education requirements, while noble in intent, aren’t working.

Students who are forced to take classes in order to meet nonspecific requirements end up wasting their time because they don’t retain the material they’re taught. Abstract classes don’t give students an incentive to remember facts, much less develop the thought processes associated with the different subjects.

It’s easier just to B.S.

This partially explains why 50 percent of college students show almost no gain in learning during their first two years of college. Right when students are most likely to be taking general education requirements, they’re learning nothing.

Sure, you can blame this statistic on alcohol consumption, but you can’t blame it all on the alcohol.

Students pay attention to the courses within their major and courses that they can directly apply to their lives. Most general education classes fall outside those categories.

At my school, for instance, students have to take three science classes, three language classes, two literature classes, two social science classes, a philosophy class, an art class, and an advanced math class. Most of these subjects are irrelevant outside of academia. As a result, students tune out.

Here’s the irony: while history classes are required, students are not required to take any business, economics, personal finance, or government courses — all areas that will undoubtedly affect every student’s life.

To dissuade students from conning their way through assignments, colleges need to require specific general education classes that directly matter to post-graduate survival. Colleges should require macroeconomics, personal finance, national and local government, business accounting, and persuasive writing courses. These classes will train students in areas that will help them get ahead in life.

Not all of the old requirements should be abolished, but they must be limited. A student shouldn’t have to take two or three courses in a subject outside of his major.

If academia continues to push subjects with little practical application, students will continue to underperform during their first two years in college, and employers will be left to choose from a generation of students who have little real-life training and are programmed to take deceptive short cuts.

Being able to sell snowballs to an Eskimo is a valuable skill, but promoting it in the classroom is hardly ideal. To compete in a global marketplace, Americans, and our education system, must value practical, hard work.

Colleges can improve on the current liberal arts system by requiring more practical classes and fewer abstract ones. We don’t have to throw out the whole system, but serious reform is needed.

Ron Meyer is a senior at Principia College. He hosts the “We the People” Internet radio show and is a contributor to The Daily Caller. He has appeared on Fox News, and his writing appears frequently in The Christian Science Monitor, Yahoo! News, Human Events, and AOL News. You can email him at wtpshow@yahoo.com.