Shaw: McCrory stated ‘an uncomfortable truth’ on higher education

Gov. Pat McCrory found himself in a firestorm of controversy a week ago when he said on a radio talk show that North Carolina should put greater emphasis on college majors that have a higher chance of leading to jobs. Some saw it as an attack on the liberal arts.

But writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jane Shaw, president of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, argues that Gov. McCrory “stated an uncomfortable truth” about higher education:

The truth is: Elite universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are doing a disservice when they lead students into majors with few, if any, job prospects. Stating such truths doesn’t mean you’re antagonistic to the liberal arts.

Yet some, always eager for a fight, misconstrued the governor’s comments as a call for abolishing liberal-arts education in favor of vocational training. UNC-Chapel Hill geography professor Altha Cravey said the governor “was not elected to decide what has intellectual value and what does not.” Sociology professor Andrew Perrin said that the governor’s comments reflected “a fundamental misunderstanding” of higher education.

Instead of treating Mr. McCrory’s statements as an attack on liberal arts—and thus missing his point—the education community might instead pause to consider the validity of his criticism. They could even acknowledge the possibility that many taxpayers, perhaps a majority, share his views.

The governor may have understated the case. Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.

For many students, college is a smorgasbord of easy courses chosen for their lack of academic rigor. There is no serious “core curriculum.” Students spend limited time studying. Faculty and administrators make matters worse by allowing students to fill up their time with courses like UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Dogs and People: From Prehistory to the Urbanized Future” and “Music in Motion: American Popular Music and Dance.” When students can get a minor in “Social and Economic Justice” without ever taking a course in the economics department, it’s hardly surprising that businesses aren’t lining up to hire them.

Be sure to check out our grantee profile of the Pope Center.