Value of Liberal Arts Education
College majors' value not measured in cash
The Rev. Walter M. Kimbrough
PHILANDER SMITH COLLEGE
The magazine industry is interesting to me, especially with regard to rankings. It seems these days magazines attempt to capitalize on rankings that purport to provide factual data the consumer desires.
The strategy is smart to a degree, as the United States has a love affair with rankings—but only certain ones. We highly debate the BCS football rankings every year while never mentioning how our nation continues its slide in the world in terms of educating our children. Our priorities are in the wrong place.
Our misplaced priorities revealed themselves in a recent ranking by Kiplinger's of the "worst majors for your career." Using a set of metrics they determined, 10 majors were identified that would damage students' careers, generate low pay and could have higher levels of unemployment. I have no qualms with this methodology, because this is a magazine that focuses on personal finance and business forecasting.
Little surprise in metrics
There was little surprise using these metrics that majors such as philosophy and religion, English, film and fine arts made the list. The humanities fields, which speak to the human condition, are viewed as less valuable because they don't generate enough money. But I ask, "Enough money for what?"
For the past few years, political leaders have debated a deficit that has grown under both parties. This is because we have a consume-at-all-costs culture that causes us to spend recklessly, using our resources in an attempt to buy happiness. And, the sad fact is that people aren't any happier, even with all of the material goods they possess.
Back in March 2003, the editors of Fast Company had it right when they wrote, "We are better paid, better fed and better educated than ever. Yet the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has tripled, and depression has soared in the past 30 years. The conclusion is inescapable: Our lifestyles are packed with more stuff, but we lead emptier lives. We're consuming more but enjoying it less."
As president of a United Methodist university, I value all fields of study that students select. My overall goal is for them to find something they love doing, that they would do for no compensation and then find a way to be paid for that work.
Leading fulfilling lives
If they love their work, they will lead fulfilling lives. Yes, in this hyper-consumer culture, some will have to live a lifestyle different from the one the advertisers in Kiplinger's want them to purchase.
If they fulfill their purpose, their calling, maybe we can build communities where these domestic terroristic acts that we've seen recently will not occur. James Holmes (accused of the mass july 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colo.) was in a neuroscience program, definitely a lucrative field. But he had no peace, no connection to humanity, and we witnessed the carnage that he created.
We have all heard the words of Mark 8:36: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" A more modern translation simply reads, "What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?" What good is it for young women and men simply to pursue careers to make the most money possible, only to find themselves alone, afraid and angry? That's what we are seeing today, over and over again.
I can appreciate what Kiplinger's does as it meets the wants of its audience. But the United States at this moment needs something different. We need people who are fulfilled in their careers so they can live fulfilled and meaningful lives. Humanities are valuable to that end.
This recent string of tragedies continues to serve as a lesson that we attempt to ignore. I pray that my students find their purpose and live it to the fullest.
I am sure Kiplinger's would agree. For all of our sakes.
The Rev. Walter M. Kimbrough is president of United Methodist-related Dillard University in New Orleans. This commentary was originally published by United Methodist News Service on Aug. 12, 2012.