Since 2016, colleges and universities have fought to stay open as enrollments fall, especially liberal arts colleges. Many colleges are adding more certificate programs in technology fields and dropping low-enrollment humanities programs.
The threat has been most acute for small liberal-arts colleges with small endowments that rely on tuition for most of their revenue.
To stay open, colleges are lowering tuition and mergers are growing in popularity. Colleges must adapt to changes in the economy and technology that render a mediocre liberal arts education less valuable. Research from the Brookings Institution, however, claims that “Within this generation is a growing recognition that liberal arts grads—working alongside engineers—are a key ingredient to sustaining innovation.”
Students who earn liberal arts degrees and can’t find a job might also need to consider a one- or two-year master’s program to develop specific skills in fields such as finance, accounting, or data science. Those programs are gaining popularity with liberal arts graduates who want to enter corporate America.
Students may also realize that their college education is mostly a signal, rather than an enriching and rewarding experience. Much to the chagrin of politicians on the left, colleges operate similarly to market institutions. If they fail to attract students and build sufficient endowments, they may merge or close.
David Waugh was a Martin Center intern. He studies economics at Hampden-Sydney College.