Should you go into debt to get a liberal arts degree?

So if you hear someone telling you that a liberal arts education is a luxury in which only the independently wealthy should indulge, I’ll agree . . . if you mean the kind of education that makes you think of your own brain as an exquisite platter of pâté, to be passed around at parties and admired for its velvety richness. Don’t get that kind of education, no matter how much money you have. The world needs exactly zero of that.

But if you mean the kind of education that gives you the unshakable idea that life is interesting, worth thinking about, worth talking about…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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5 thoughts on “Should you go into debt to get a liberal arts degree?”

  1. My husband and I both received liberal arts degrees in the mid-80s. My husband has never been unemployed, but we’re not financially comfortable. We’ve always had just what we need, with a few rough patches. That would have been the case whatever education my husband had because his temperament and interests are in areas that are not lucrative. That’s just the way he is and I wouldn’t have married him if he was different. We’ve found our education invaluable in setting a learning pattern that has enriched our lives and our family culture. The Catholic college we attended was very generous with financial aid and we were given an easy payment plan for what debt we did incur. Our children are also attending liberal arts colleges. Tuition is, of course, higher than it was 30 years ago, yet we’ve been able to find Catholic liberal arts colleges that still offer generous financial aid (a short list). It helps that we don’t make six figures and do have a large family, so we do indeed qualify for aid. Our kids have graduated with some debt from federal loans, under $20,000 (which I think is reasonable and not too burdensome with a decent job). We knew there was no way our kids wouldn’t have debt for a higher education; just like there was no way we were going to buy a home without a loan in this economy. Fairy godmothers are in short supply. My kids have said the debt was worth it – not because it led to financial success (it hasn’t, but they are young and shouldn’t be comfy yet), but because their education has enriched their lives and their faith. So, do your research and pray. Doors will open if that’s where God wants your children to be. If not, don’t sweat it.

  2. Thank you!

    1. The most completely unemployable people I know are blue collar workers whose expertise has been superannuated by new technology: auto mechanics who learned before the late 1990’s explosion of electronics. You Immediately behind them in the unemployment line are petroleum engineers from the pre-fracking era and mechanical engineers who graduated before design programs for computers. You can add the petroleum land managers and marketing majors to that list. By contrast, all of my liberal arts classmates are still working. The pace of technology development will render any technical degree useless within ten years of obtaining it.

    2. If I owned an electrical or A/C contracting company, I would advertise for recent liberal arts grads who haven’t found a job yet. They have already demonstrated persistence and reliability and they are more likely to be able to figure out complex instructions and show up on time than any 18-year-old. The worst that you’ll have to suffer is book recommendations and pedantic grammar, which is good for you anyway. (‘Irregardless’ has never been a real word in English and you deserve abuse for using it. You deserve even more abuse for failing to make your verbs agree in number with your subjects because that’s like, third grade, dude. )

  3. Love this piece. I think there is evidence to prove that non-liberal arts majors do much better financially:

    I struggle with this question myself. I loved my liberal arts degree, but did return to get a more technical degree to be more employable. By spouse and I are still dealing with student loan debt 14 years later… so I think debt will still be the deciding factor for my kids. I desperately don’t want them to have student debt !!

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