Liberal Arts: Personal Investment, Public Good, or Luxury Good?

Higher Education Bubble

After decades of selling college as an “investment” — and pricing it accordingly — it’s going to be hard for the higher education establishment to pivot to a college-as-personal-fulfillment argument. If it’s the latter, it’s a consumption good, priced on a par with a Porsche or Ferrari. Those shouldn’t be financed by debt, or bought by 18-year-olds. If college liberal-arts degrees, on the other hand, are to be sold as a public good, benefiting society so much that society should pay the freight, then (1) Society should have a much bigger say in what’s being taught; and (2) It might be nice to see some actual, you know, evidence of that.
Consider three possibilities:
1. The post-secondary Liberal Arts curriculum is an investment from which students will reap a financial return.
2. State support for Liberal Arts degrees provides a "public good".
3. The Liberal Arts curriculum provides "psychic income" to consumers (students) that is independent of any financial reward.

These are not mutually exclusive, but the implications, which are left as exercises for the reader, for the arguments for tax support are wildly different. Of course, there remains...

4. The post-secondary Liberal Arts degree is an employment program for due-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, which this suggests.

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