Why ‘Nano-Degrees’ Can’t Replace Liberal Arts Education

If you can’t “disrupt” education through innovation, the thinking goes, just downsize it so much that it becomes training for just one task that a particular company wants at one particular moment.

But in an article for the Atlantic, President Michael Roth argues that refashioning vocational education under the banner of Silicon Valley sophistication doesn’t make sense.

“We do need experiments integrating technology and pedagogy,” Roth writes. “That’s why I’ve been teaching online courses with my Wesleyan colleagues over the last two years. We’ve reached almost a million students in that time and continue to learn from working together. But we teach students online in the same way we do on campus: with the goal of broadening their thinking while sharpening their skills.

“I know well the many challenges facing higher education today: rising tuition and onerous student debt; drastic cuts to state support of public institutions; poor measures of real student learning; the debilitating effects of inequality; groupthink; sexual violence; poorly paid adjunct professors; and the disconnect, at many institutions, between the impetus for new research and the core mission of teaching undergraduates. But none of these problems should frighten us into abandoning the model of pragmatic liberal learning that has made America’s best colleges and universities the envy of the world.”