The Shift in Funding on Some College Majors: the Battle Between Liberal Arts and Technology

Remember the days when you were a child and your mom or dad use to say that you could be anything that you wanted to be when you grew up. Well, those days might be over. Now the saying will be: you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up, but stick to the math or sciences, its tuition rates are more affordable.

As tuition rates continue to rise year after year, Florida Governor Richard L. Scott, has suggested plans to lower tuition rates but only for majors that he considers are in high demand in the future job market. . Thus, if you plan on pursuing a major in math, science, and technology, college tuition will be made more affordable for you to do so and more accessible so you can compete in a future job market based in engineering, new sciences and technology.

As, the world might be moving towards a technology driven economy, some feel that universities and colleges should steer students towards majors that are in line with those economic demands and thus return on the investment of college tuition rates and public funds. In 2011 for The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Scott stated: “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs… So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.” Thus, there is a new proposal for Florida’s state universities to freeze tuition rates for three years for students in the majors of math, science, and technology, whose classes are some of the most expensive for universities. This also includes an initiative that the state’s colleges offer four-year degrees for $10,000 in major concentrations in the same fields.

According to a New York Times article, Dal A. Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation, states that universities need to be practical about the value of their degrees especially when they enter the job market. He states: “The higher education system needs to evolve with the economy… People pay taxes expecting that the public good will be served to the greatest degree possible. We call that a return on investment.” However, is an education simply about returning on an investment or producing a profit for the well being of a state or is education a tool that seeks to enrich and benefit the individual? Where does individual dreams and passion fit into a purpose of education for society’s economic demands?

The push to have students chose majors that are more economy friendly has its own share of setbacks, especially after taking a closer look at the United States education system for grade schooling. A recent New York Times article on education test results reveals that US students are lagging behind in the areas of math and science compared to students in East Asia and some European countries. Yet, American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading. South Korea and Singapore had the top scores for fourth grade math and science while the United States ranked 11th in fourth grade math and 7th in fourth grade science. China and Russia had the highest test scores in fourth grade reading, with American students coming in 6th. So for a nation that is supposed to be pushing towards a technology service oriented economy where interests lie in math and science, the U.S. is far behind and it is going to have to catch up way before its students even reach their college careers.

Even though some say that we are moving towards this economy driven by careers in math, science, and technology, the arts industries are booming, most specifically in entertainment. According to a study by Mike Masnick called “The Sky is Rising: The Entertainment Industry Is Large & Growing… Not Shrinking” the content and revenue of US entertainment has been growing with Americans spending a great portion of their income on entertainment as the percentage increased by 15% from 2000 to 2008. Then employment in the entertainment sector grew by 20%, with the number of indie artists growing by 43%. Overall, the entertainment industry grew 66% from 1998 to 2010. United Kingdom’s Guardian News also predicts strong growth for the American film industry with over $50 billion dollars in revenue in the next four years.

Other arts fields are also still highly profitable. Recently, in Miami Beach, Florida the annual Art Basel kicked off its 11 year in which more than 250 galleries from 31 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia presented its best artwork that spanned over 110 years of art history. The Basel brought in 50,000 visitors, with an attendance of over 70,000 participants from across the globe over the five day span of the show. Not too shabby for a state where arts are not as valued.

Yet, Florida is not the only state implementing these new tuition breaks for selective majors. Several colleges and universities in Texas began offering bargain degrees this fall, and others are scheduled to start programs next year, under measures put in place by Texas Governor Rick Perry. One of which is the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa which offers degrees in chemistry  computer science, geology, math, and information systems for $10,000. The low-cost programs vary in structure, but most use a combination of online and classroom courses in addition to community college credits and grants to keep tuition low for students.

However, will these $10,000 degrees answer the real problem at hand: the rising cost of college tuition?  Although these initiatives might deter costs for some, for others college tuition is still too high. It also leaves those who are not passionate about the fields of math or science in the dark. Then the selective tuition represents a way in which individuals are just a number in the crowd or a paycheck in that their life’s goals are made to serve not individual growth and progress, but economic investments and profit.

What does this mean for the field of liberal arts and humanities? Is it fair to underestimate their value when they harbor life lessons, address community concerns, and nurture problem solving skills and creativity? What would society be without its anthropologists, philosophers, authors, writers, sociologists, artists, and just true innovators? In a world where people are fighting to be heard and be seen as more than just a number in the crowd, that is where true innovation can be found.

The real question is how should one decide what major one chooses to pursue? Whether you choose to base your aspirations and career choices on economic opportunities and the demands of the job market or passion and individual wants and desires, the choice is still yours to decide.