This past September, West Virginia University cut its world languages department and a third of its education department. While the school also made cuts to STEM studies, the primary targets of these cuts were liberal arts programs, with further ongoing deliberations regarding cuts to its English, philosophy and women’s studies departments. West Virginia University is not the only school to cut liberal arts like this. Small, rural schools such as Emporia State University in Kansas and Marymount University in Virginia have also cut liberal arts programs to account for decreases in enrollment. Larger schools have also followed suit — Miami University, a school with more than 17,000 undergraduates, has cut 18 liberal arts programs. Cuts to liberal arts programs are a poor decision that will negatively impact students and faculty at higher education institutions.
Higher education today heavily caters to STEM majors, which receive higher funding and greater focus. Even for STEM majors, there is value in liberal arts programs, and any education without them would be incomplete. STEM students need the liberal arts to develop strong communication, cultural intelligence and creative thinking skills. Without liberal arts programs, STEM students would become one-dimensional. The world cannot function with STEM alone, and cutting liberal arts programs in higher education foreshadows an incomplete and unbalanced education system.
Of course, it makes sense for universities to cut programs with little enrollment when facing budget deficits, but there seems to be a disproportionate cutting of liberal arts programs. This begs the question of why the United States seems to be shifting to a more STEM-focused education system. Grants go toward STEM programs that align with high-paying careers that are in high demand, helping to fully develop emerging fields, but tend to leave liberal arts programs in the dust. It may be possible that this shift is directly related to how STEM careers play into the United States economy — 67 percent of United States jobs and 69 percent of the nation’s GDP are supported by STEM, and STEM annually produces $2.3 trillion in federal tax revenue.
The disproportionate funding for STEM programs by state and federal grant programs also means students in liberal arts programs have fewer options for financial aid and scholarships. With rising tuition costs, students may be more inclined to choose a STEM major where they can receive a scholarship over a liberal arts major. STEM careers are also typically higher in demand, so students can find jobs soon after graduation, further pushing them toward these majors. This creates a cycle of students choosing STEM majors over liberal arts, leading to fewer students enrolled in liberal arts programs and further cuts to liberal arts funding.
Liberal arts should not be left behind in higher education. If anything, more funding would help revitalize these programs and make them more appealing to students. At public schools, state education requirements often guarantee general education funding, but the same is not true for private schools. Small private schools that haven’t been able to catch up to larger universities with more funding are pouring money into STEM programs in an effort to catch up, only making themselves less academically diverse. Without liberal arts programs, our world would not look the way it does. After all, how could someone become a doctor with no basic idea of sociology or anthropology? Liberal arts courses teach us about people, and without them, we’d live in a world with no compassion or understanding. Cutting liberal arts programs is not the solution to budget deficits at universities. A general education background is necessary for a well-rounded education and success after graduation.
Antonia Kladias is a sophomore majoring in biochemistry.