What Ever Happened to Shakespeare?

Is anybody else out there concerned about the popularity of vocational college degrees?

I’m talking about degrees like sports management, film production, park & recreation, information technology, homeland security and communications. And, of course, the biggest vocational major of all – business.

Vocational degrees have always been around. Until the mid 1960s, there was a balance between vocational degrees and liberal arts degrees. Since then, however, the liberal arts have been getting pummeled. Today 64% of college students are enrolled in vocational degrees.

The Decline of the Arts & Sciences

Since the 1960s, physical science majors have dropped by 60%, English only attracts half as many majors and history and foreign language have fared even worse. Some universities are kicking less popular foreign language offerings to the curb.

If you want to read a wonderful book that explains why we should care if young Americans are spending their college years learning to be fire safety specialists, landscape architects, IT guys and marketers, I’d urge you to read a wonderful book that just came out in paperback: Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It by Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker. Or at least visit their website: High Education?

What College Classes Are Important

I pulled my copy of Higher Education? off the shelf yesterday after I visited the website of the American Council on Trustees and Alumni, which for years has decried the fact that so many colleges and universities are allowing undergrads to skip out on classes that should be in any core curriculum.

ACTA released its annual report card this week that attempts to measure  whether colleges are requiring their young charges to be well-rounded before they leave with their diploma. To receive an A on the ACTA report card, schools must require undergrads to take classes in at least six of the following seven disciplines that the council believes should be in any core curriculum:

  1. Composition
  2. Literature
  3. Foreign language
  4. US government or history
  5. Economics
  6. Mathematics
  7. Natural or physical science

While ACTA surveyed more than 1,000 colleges and universities, only 19 actually received an A. I guarantee that you’ll be surprised at what schools didn’t make the list. I shared the names of these 19 schools, and had further to say on this subject, at my college blog at CBS MoneyWatch. Please take a look here:

19 Colleges That Make You Think

What Do You Think?

Do you believe that I’m off base for suggesting that a student’s time in college should be devoted primarily to learning how to think, write and reason rather than learn a trade? I think the former abilities are vastly more valuable when grads are looking for jobs and they will make them more thoughtful citizens. I’d love to hear what you think – just use the comment box below.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

More at The College Solution:

Why Not Major in Philosophy?

 Where Professors Send Their Children to College

8 Reasons Not to Get a Business Degree

5 Reasons to Attend a Liberal Arts College

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10 Responses to What Ever Happened to Shakespeare?

  1. Anne Power November 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    I happened across this article this afternoon while searching for something unrelated, but the title made me curious enough to read it. I have to say that after doing so, I felt very irritated.

    I graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and am very thankful I got what you consider a “vocational” degree. Many of my friends weren’t so lucky and graduated with Liberal Arts degrees with which they had difficulty getting jobs. After hearing all the recent news reports about the debt with which students typically exit college, you have to wonder why someone would want a degree that would make them more immediately employable?

    This particular passage annoyed me most: “Do you believe that I’m off base for suggesting that a student’s time in college should be devoted primarily to learning how to think, write and reason rather than learn a trade.” The presumption that people graduating with “vocational” degrees do not learn to “think, write and reason” is not only presumptuous but insulting. They simply learn to “think, write and reason” in a more logical, analytical way than a Liberal Arts major would. Instead of learning to read between the lines of Shakespearean poetry, they learn to analyze data for trends not immediately apparent and draw conclusions based on those trends. Instead of learning to write a short story, they learn to write technical reports or marketing materials. And as far as reasoning, take any advanced math course and you will be required to use reasoning beyond anything you’ve ever experienced, albeit a different type of reasoning that an English major might learn.

    Your viewpoint seems to be very limited. There is a need for both types of learning. Perhaps the best course of action would be to provide an education where students could become more well-rounded and be exposed to both types of courses.

  2. Patty September 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    When I was getting ready to go to college, my father told me that one should not go to college to train for a job, but rather to learn to think. I studied engineering – definitely vocational in nature – but I thoroughly enjoyed my classes in British Literature (which imbued me with a love for Shakespeare that persists to this day), Economics, World History, even Psychology. I wish I had the time to study french, but my course load would not allow for the commitment involved. My writing skills, such as they were at the time, helped me through all those classes. I will strongly encourage my kids to study broad topics when it’s their turn. I felt that they greatly enriched my awareness. And maybe even helped me learn to think even though I didn’t go to your list of schools.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy September 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience Patty. When majoring in engineering it can be very difficult to get a broad liberal arts experience, but it sounds like you did far better than most. I also love the fact that you have passed down your father’s advice to your own children.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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