While capitalism has been the vaunted soundtrack to our American lifestyle for decades, the discussion had somehow remained on the sidelines when in reference to liberal arts education. That is, until now. All of the sudden, a true liberal arts education is evaluated like it’s a luxury product, and any German car dealer can tell you, when dealing with a high-paying demographic, you must meet and exceed a number of constantly met-and-exceeded metrics in order to remain competitive.
It used to make sense that higher education wasn’t subject to the supply and demand of capitalism, because the product itself was too vast and too abstract to measure in discrete units. But now a liberal arts education’s value is reflected in its ability to produce job offers. It’s not complicated: better education means more job offers.
But once upon a time, attending higher education was a conscious decision to be the antithesis of utilitarian. For four years, students committed to substantial stasis in exchange for philosophical discussions and critical analyses of classic texts.
Nowadays, GW’s objective is to produce the most marketable students possible. And so, in exchange for those Socratic discussions that ignite critical thinking but lack concrete value, colleges and universities are teaching hands-on skills.
Behold, the transition from college to trade school.
I am not thrilled by this shift, but it is the way it is. While we cannot legislate knowledge or depth of critical thought – the original determinants of consumer satisfaction – we can quantify employment offers. GW must find a way to mold to that shape but still retain a focus on critical thinking.
Here’s my solution: Create a culture of creation on campus.
GW should require courses in entrepreneurship for all students. There, students will gather the skills needed so they don’t have to enter an organization at the bottom rung and climb up, but instead lead their own programs. These courses can be tailored to all majors. But instead of being a student’s entire course load, entrepreneurship courses would be held in tandem with a traditional college curriculum. A student who not only understands the theory behind his or her interest, but has also created something new in that field, will be a truly well-rounded graduate.
This is how all students would be forced to think critically, leave their comfort zone and, on the day of their graduation, have a tremendous product to boast on their resumes. The students who take these classes could create the next Snuggie or experience the boom and tragic bust of an online news start-up by the end of their college tenures.
Fostering a culture of creation is the next phase in quality higher education. Such an atmosphere combines the age-old qualities of critical thinking and learning for learning’s sake with today’s values of innovation, marketability and salary inflation.
Education cannot match the demands of a company on Wall Street. And it shouldn’t. GW isn’t a corporation, and we’ve seen the failure of many for-profit colleges anyway. Higher education consumers should hold their colleges accountable based on how enriched and prepared they believe they are by graduation – not based on the capital value that their diplomas hold on a given day. But every day, that philosophy gets buried deeper as the graduates with skills get jobs and those with intellect get their room back at mom and dad’s house.
GW cannot change the way the world looks at education. But it can meet those needs in a manner that will make our students market-savvy, efficient and truly well-rounded. And any German car dealer can tell you that when selling a product with those kinds of qualities, success is unavoidable.
Annu Subramanian, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.