Decline of Liberal Arts Lamented at Counselors’ Meeting

By Susan G. Foster — October 10, 1984 2 min read

Boston--Concern over a general decline in liberal-arts education marked several keynote addresses delivered here last week at the 40th annual meeting of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors.

The association represents high-school guidance counselors, college admissions officers, financial-aid officers, and others who work with students as they move from high school to college.

Former U.S. Commissioner of Education Harold Howe 2nd argued that in the struggle between the liberal arts and vocational education, it appears that “the liberal arts are losing.” Students want “the promise of a good job when they get out,” he said, and are overlooking the long-term importance of liberal-arts training.

“As our economy changes from a production to a service economy, the skills that are emphasized are considered vocational skills in the ser-vice sector,” said Mr. Howe, who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Decline in Training

In a separate address to the some 2,000 high-school counselors and college-admissions officers, Bernard Harleston, president of the City College of New York, called the decline in liberal-arts training part of a broader threat to education to which high-school counselors must be sensitive.

Noting that the number of minority students enrolling in colleges and universities has declined in the last several years, Mr. Harleston linked the drop in enrollment to an increase in the amount of financial aid going to “achieving, non-needy students.”

“To put the emphasis on access in the context of people who don’t need it,” Mr. Harleston said, suggests an agenda other than the education “of all young people and not just an elite.”

Citing the recent commission re-ports on excellence in education, Mr. Harleston said that “to focus on more math and more languages when one of two high-school dropouts is a male minority is to serve an agenda different from equality and access.”

A liberal-arts experience is vital for minority and disadvantaged students “who do not have as rich a social experience,” he said.

“It is through the liberal arts that we begin to think of who we are,” he asserted.

Among the other speakers at the four-day conference were Ruth Love, superintendent of the Chicago public schools; Michael O’Keefe, president of the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education; and Sidney B. Simon of the Center for Psychological Education at the University of Massachusetts.

Participants also attended workshops on the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s athletic-eligibility rules, college counseling for students from single-parent homes, and counseling approaches and concerns for first-generation college students and their parents.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1984 edition of Education Week as Decline of Liberal Arts Lamented at Counselors’ Meeting