Yet, there is growing skepticism about the value of this model here at home. The recent tax reform bill was a wake-up call that our strongest colleges and universities are under assault by some in government. The initial proposals would have made education unaffordable for many by taxing tuition waivers for graduate students and ending deductions for student loan interest. Thankfully, these provisions were ultimately stripped from the bill, but lawmakers let stand a new excise tax on the investment income of a select group of colleges and universities. None of these provisions were designed to raise much revenue. They were intended to make a statement.
While these attacks are motivated by misguided ideas, those of us in higher education need to do a much better job of explaining why these claims are not true and why what we do is valuable to our students and society. We cannot take for granted that any of this is obvious.
The data are clear: a liberal arts education is great career preparation, both for excellent lifetime earnings and for satisfaction with the work. George Anders, business author, former Wall Street Journal feature writer, and contributing editor at Forbes, and Randall Stross, a professor at San Jose State University’s School of Management who has written extensively about technology businesses and Silicon Valley for this publication, The New York Times, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, both have new books that underscore these points. This education develops the skills of critical thinking, rigorous analysis of data and facts, communicating with the written and spoken word, understanding of cultural differences and issues, and the ability to keep learning. The fact is that liberal arts graduates do extremely well in every imaginable field, and I know this from personal experience. Before entering higher education, I was a senior executive in the private sector; I saw that this education provides skills and knowledge that are in high demand, and I know how well it prepares students for long-term professional success.
On the issue of free speech, without question there have been incidents on campuses where speakers were impeded or prevented from delivering their views, or worse. I have consistently made the point that the ability to express and engage all manner of ideas, even offensive ones, is central to our mission, and I find these incidents deeply troubling. But they are the exception.