The importance of liberal arts in UConn’s push for STEM

Recently, an article in the Washington Post written by the president of Franklin & Marshall College, Daniel Porterfield, described the lack of value associated with a liberal arts education. This conversation was stimulated by the release of the White House’s College Scorecard, a new government website from the Obama administration that provides information such as the average annual cost of attendance, the graduation rate and salary after 10 years following matriculation at the school. 

Porterfield argues that the college scorecard can be of use to families trying to gauge the financial value in terms of aid and return on investment following graduation. This view portrays college as strictly a way of procuring the necessary credentials in order to enter the labor force and become financially independent and successful. The university acts as nothing more than the means to a monetary end. But the metrics of the scorecard are limited in their scope. The value of a college education cannot be solely measured in post-graduation earnings.

This argument is especially pertinent with the UConn’s substantial push for development in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, heralded by the state’s $1.5 billion investment in the form of Next Generation Connecticut (NGC). The mantra of NGC is “building Connecticut’s economic future through STEM,” with specific aims of hiring about 200 new STEM faculty, admitting more students in STEM fields, constructing a greater number of STEM facilities and establishing a separate STEM Scholars community within the UConn Honors Program, according to UConn’s admissions webpage. 

While this is a pragmatic and utilitarian approach to undergraduate education, ensuring financial stability in the long run for both students and the state, it also belittles the importance of an education in liberal arts. Subjects such as history, English, the arts and social sciences seem to be swept aside to make way for UConn’s new role as an engine of economic development. However, as the old adage goes, “It’s not about the destination but the journey.” 

College should be about expanding one’s mind through varied academic, cultural and social experiences. It offers an opportunity to grow not just one’s skillset but to grow as a person. There are forms of learning that are integral to one’s success in life that can’t be taught through facts and figures and cannot be measured by one’s salary alone. Such lessons build a moral compass, instill empathy and foster greater communication, shaping not only what we do but also who we are.