How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America

It's not easy to balance the advantages of a college degree with the deficiencies of a liberal arts education. But at schools like Babson College, entrepreneurship is a core part of the curriculum.

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When are Americans going to wake up and realize that the 60s and 70s-era nostalgia for the "value" of a college degree is just that -- nostalgia?

A degree does not guarantee you or your children a good job anymore. In fact, it doesn't guarantee you a job: last year, 1 out of 2 bachelor's degree holders under 25 were jobless or unemployed. Since the recession, we've lost millions of high- and mid-wage jobs -- and replaced a handful of those with lower-wage ones. No wonder some young people are giving up entirely -- a 16.8 percent unemployment rate plus soaring student loan debt is more than a little discouraging. Yet old-guard academic leaders are still clinging to the status quo -- and loudly insisting that a four-year liberal arts degree is a worthy investment in every young American's future.

Case in point: I was recently invited to keynote during a conference at the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Fresno, Cal. As someone who works every day to give more people access to entrepreneurship education, it's refreshing to talk to educators who are adapting their curricula in the interest of actually preparing students for a new economy. But one educator told me a story that made my blood boil, about a college president who recently terminated his institution's entrepreneurship education program.

Not because of budgetary constraints or poor enrollment, mind you -- but because he "didn't understand the tangible value of such a program."

Really? In 2012, it's the "tangible value" of four years of liberal arts that should be called into question.

We keep telling young Americans that a bachelor's degree in history is as valuable as, say, a chemical engineering degree -- but it's just not true anymore. All degrees are not created equal. And if we -- parents, educators, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders -- maintain this narrow-minded approach, then we are not just failing young indebted Americans and their families. We are harming the long-term vitality of our economy.

Unfortunately, the college president in the story above represents the norm. According to research conducted by Buzz Marketing Group and the Young Entrepreneur Council, 56 percent of students age 21-24 never had access to entrepreneurship classes at all; of those who did, 62 percent found them inadequate or poorly executed -- even though 92 percent agreed entrepreneurship education was vital to their success today. Talk about a disconnect.

Now, I realize this is new -- and often difficult -- territory for traditional academic institutions. How does a school validate entrepreneurship? And what parent wants to hear they are paying tens of thousands of dollars for their child to be an "entrepreneur"?

Look no further than institutions like Babson College, consistently ranked #1 for entrepreneurship. Since current president Len Schlesigner signed on -- in the midst of the Great Recession, no less -- Babson's faculty has pioneered its own teaching method, applying entrepreneurial thinking and hands-on learning to every aspect of campus life. Unlike other collegiate leaders, Schlesinger saw the recession as an opportunity to expand. With Babson faculty on board, he ambitiously coordinated stakeholders on and off campus, and formed departmental task forces to review curricula.

Presented by

Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, co-founder of Gen Y Capital Partners, and an internationally syndicated columnist.

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