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Liberal Arts at the Brink Hardcover – April 14, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Well researched and well written, Victor Ferrall's warning of the demise of the liberal arts in American higher education should remind us of the difference between intellectually nurtured education for thinking, and occupational training. If we abandon the former for the latter, what happens to American intellectual leadership in an unpredictable future? (Donald M. Stewart, Former President & CEO Chicago Community Trust)

Victor E. Ferrall, Jr. has written a timely book with passion, details, and insights on the factors contributing to the decline in demand for liberal arts education, the crisis facing the liberal arts colleges, and the way forward for arresting the decline...This book is must reading for those who want to know about liberal arts education and care about the survival of liberal arts colleges in general and in America in particular. (Edward K. Y. Chen Hong Kong Economic Journal 2011-09-03)

About the Author

Victor E. Ferrall, Jr. is President Emeritus of Beloit College.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674049721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674049727
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #954,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author, Victor Ferrall, worked as a lawyer for 30 years before becoming the president of Beloit College (a venerable and highly respected Tier II liberal arts college in Wisconsin). His training and perspective position him well to bring a fresh eye to the economic challenges facing liberal arts colleges in the contemporary higher ed environment and to consider the long-term viability of the business model adopted individually and collectively by these schools.

As long as he sticks to this brief, his brisk and logical writing style is well suited to his topic, and he makes a vigorous and persuasive argument that the climate for the small liberal arts college today is poor and that the best hope for this tiny but precious sector of American higher education lies in consortial efforts by liberal arts colleges as a group to make common cause for the unique value of the individualized and non-vocational education they offer. A statistic that stands out for me: More students are currently enrolled in the for-profit University of Phoenix (384,900) than in all the 225 liberal arts colleges (as identified in US News and World Report) combined (349,000). As Ferrall demonstrates, even this small sector of liberal arts education is moreover increasingly pressed to offer a more and more vocational education. While the most highly ranked liberal arts colleges still hold out against vocational studies, those with smaller endowments who are having a more difficult time surviving are turning over in many cases more than half of their curriculum to vocational courses.

While not overstating his case, Ferrall asks why we should care?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jon Caulkins on October 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well-written, clearly presented summary of the challenging market in which liberal arts colleges compete. Author is a former president of a liberal arts college, and clearly cares about the future of liberal arts. So this is written with the intention of helping liberal arts colleges, not attacking them.
Should be particularly valuable for people (faculty, trustees, etc.) who care about liberal arts colleges and are used to thinking about internal issues (how to make our school better) but would benefit from seeing the big picture of industry-wide trends.
Contains thoughtful analyses of tenure's pros and cons and how badly typical PhD training at a research university serves people who end up being faculty at liberal arts colleges.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By len on October 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The author is to be commended for his concern, but he fails to raise what for me are the real issues involved with a liberal arts education.

I have now lived in Korea for five years, teaching English in both a public school setting as well as in the "hogwons" or academies that are on every street and on every block--those ubiquitous private institutions that teach a variety of subjects, from English to TKD to art, math,science, music, inter alia. The amount of time and money invested in these hogwons would arouse stunned amazement, at best, in the US, and disbelief at worst.

Unlike the liberal arts focus which is geared towards understanding and ceativity, in Korea the sole purpose of education is to pass the several rungs of exams each student must take during his academic life--to move up the ladder by going to a better middle or high school, and then a top college, and all for the biggest and most important payoff: getting a high-paying job. The problem is, however, that as a result of this "Test-education", no one here thinks much, or deeply; and few read after college--and almost no one on his/her own learns a new subject just for the love of it. Whereas a liberal arts education trains the mind, sharpening it, honing it, deepening it, and broadening it,and sets it on a life-long path of enquiry and beauty and truth, this exam-oriented education is wholly and entirely concerned with passing the state tests to get into a top college. Inquiry, in other words, is shunted aside and all emphasis is on memorization and the skills needed in test-taking! As a result, there is no inquiry-driven interest in academic subjects, only a concern to master test-taking skills.
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Instead of being yet another lament about the devaluation of the liberal arts, this book is a spirited defense of and journey through the field. It was an enjoyable read, especially if you're weary of the lamenting and all the bad news that seems to come out of colleges these days. Perhaps it could help the liberal arts pull back from the brink.
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