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Future of liberal arts colleges in serious jeopardy

Ohio Northern University works toward achieving its goal of becoming a STEM university, focusing on the development of science and technology. (ONU pharmacy photo/Communications & Marketing)

On Tuesday, March 3, Sweet Briar College in Virginia decided to close its doors at the end of the current academic school year after 114 years of providing education. This is incredibly shocking to many people in higher education. Small colleges close from time to time, but it is not a frequent act. It has happened occasionally since the economic downturn began in 2008.

But Sweet Briar’s move to shut down is unusual, for the reason that the college still has a meaningful endowment, positive financial structures, and well-respected academic programs. So, why the sudden move to close its doors, you may ask? Well, Sweet Briar anticipated the trend lines of secondary education, and multiple strategies met with unviable solutions. So the college decided to close now, rather than to drag out the process for several years.

It is strange that a school like Sweet Briar could close just like that, without any warning. The school is finishing the academic year, but to the undergraduate students, this is it. Can you imagine waking up one day and reading that your school is closing? You have to transfer to a different school for your education, even though Sweet Briar is your “home away from home.”

Other people believe that this announcement shows bravery for Sweet Briar. Being an all-female liberal arts school, the academic board predicted the demise of people going into the liberal arts degrees. It knew people are more inclined to study science and math, rather than the creative arts.

So, this raises my next question: What about Ohio Northern University? I am a sophomore creative writing student. As I look around the McIntosh Dining Hall on a visitation day, I see prospective students with the little nametags that read: Pharmacy, Biology, Engineering, etc. These fields of study are all forms of science. At the latest visitation day, I did not see one student wearing a nametag that read: Creative Writing.

I am an English student, and I am proud to declare myself to be one. I know Ohio Northern’s Department of English is small compared to the Raabe College of Pharmacy, but I continue to wonder, when did this change begin? Didn’t Ohio Northern used to be a proud liberal arts school?

Now, Ohio Northern appears to be moving toward becoming a STEM university, focusing on the sciences. It appears that STEM schools are the way to go today. More colleges are focusing on providing excellent science and technology programs.

I strongly believe Ohio Northern, just like Sweet Briar College, anticipated a change in secondary education. More people are studying the sciences because they know jobs are available in those fields. It is very challenging to find a job in the creative arts. It is almost necessary to continue your education with graduate school to even have a chance to be considered for a job position in most companies.

Ohio Northern must have anticipated this change, but instead of closing its doors like Sweet Briar College did, the university decided to broaden its science fields and allow the school to move toward becoming a STEM school, not a liberal arts school.

I am not saying this decision was wrong; it was incredibly smart. It was the right decision. I am proud to be an Ohio Northern Polar Bear. I am proud to be an English student in this school in which I am surrounded by pharmacy and engineering students.

Though, this doesn’t mean I am not worried for the future of liberal arts. How will the nearby colleges like Bluffton University or Defiance College continue to survive in this ever-changing world? They are both liberal arts colleges, and as far as I know, they are not making the change like Ohio Northern is to become a more well-rounded school.

I don’t ever want Ohio Northern to close its doors, but I do want the liberal arts to have an important role in the academic fabric of the university.

Maybe the question should not be about why liberal arts are fading, but rather, how can we show businesses that college graduates with liberal arts degrees are important? That is the real question for the future of higher education.  




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