President Rebecca Chopp Helps Lead Efforts to Promote the Liberal Arts

Inside Higher Ed: Making the Case

... But it appears that a more concerted effort to make the case for the liberal arts is emerging. In recent weeks, several groups including the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the Council of Independent Colleges have announced efforts to promote the liberal arts. Those efforts follow on the heels of a conference of selective liberal arts colleges in the spring hosted by Lafayette and Swarthmore Colleges that called for better messaging on the part of these institutions to better sell their value and counter assumptions about the sector.

Change the Game

But there is another approach that some in higher education are starting to consider. If the traditional case for liberal arts colleges - that such institutions show stronger outcomes, even on employment data - aren't winning the message game, maybe they need to shift the playing field.

That's the case being made by Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp, one of the presidents who convened the conference at Lafayette this spring. Chopp, along with Dan Weiss, the current president of Lafayette College and future president of Haverford College, has spent the past year trying to develop a way to more effectively make the case for liberal arts colleges. In a speech to her campus last month, Chopp said those advocating for liberal education should not focus solely on trying to demonstrate economic value, but rather work against the prevailing notion of what education is for.

"The case for the liberal arts, in my opinion, needs to be reframed to suggest not only how well we serve individual students but also how we act as a counterforce against a culture that is commodifying knowledge and projecting a view of community and anthropology that is reductionist and dangerous," she said. Her approach emphasizes that the country is diversifying and the world is becoming smaller, and residential liberal arts colleges provide the best opportunity to train students to function in succeed in such a community.

In essence, Chopp - whose own background is in religious studies and theology - is advocating for a more humanistic approach to making the case for liberal arts colleges. She is taking a page from 19th-century thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, who advocated for higher education as a key component of a robust democracy and free society, rather than a tool for economic advancement. ...