WHO NEEDS AN ENGLISH MAJOR?

by Stephen Smith

The most popular college major in America these days is business. Some students think it doesn't pay to study philosophy or history. But advocates of liberal arts programs say their graduates are still among the most likely to become leaders, and that a healthy democracy depends on citizens with a broad and deep education.

In a troubled economy, it's harder to make the case for a degree in English, or any college major without an obvious career path. More undergrads are opting for "practical" degrees in business, engineering or nursing.

Declining enrollment and financial problems forced Antioch College to shut its doors in 2008. Now, the 155-year-old college in Yellow Springs, Ohio is reopening with a goal of creating an affordable model for small, liberal arts programs.

Berea College in eastern Kentucky aims to give students from one of the poorest regions in the nation a chance to break out of poverty - by earning liberal arts degrees.

Portland State University is trying to stop students from dropping out by grounding its liberal arts program in the real world. The school's motto: Let Knowledge Serve the City.

Most for-profit institutions focus on degrees in "hard skills" like business, technology and health sciences. But American Public University System is a for-profit, online school that believes the liberal arts can be a money maker.

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Published Fall 2011

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The Tomorrow's College series is funded by a grant from Lumina Foundation, which is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college, and by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, which is dedicated to the belief that research is necessary to the improvement of education.

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