Trump: Student Loans Should Be Off-Limits To Liberal Arts Majors

Education and loan policy from the Republican frontrunner

Celebrity Apprentice

Donald Trump, that screaming Creamsicle (sCreamsicle?) of a candidate, is unveiling some grand new ideas about how young people should pay for college, and which young people should even get to go to college at all. For example, “colleges should not be admitting students that they aren’t confident can graduate in a reasonable time frame and find jobs,” Clovis, Trump’s national co-chair, tells Inside Higher Ed.

How they’re supposed to assess that, I don’t know. Maybe they let in people who look like the Donald and refuse everyone else? They’re also supposed to suss out what prospective students plan to major in and cull students who seem like bad bets because they want to study French.

these reforms would make it legitimate for colleges and banks to make decisions in part on students’ prospective majors and their likely earnings after graduation, he said.

“If you are going to study 16th-century French art, more power to you. I support the arts,” Clovis said. “But you are not going to get a job.”

A college should factor that in when deciding on a student’s loan eligibility, and the requirement that colleges share the risk would be a powerful incentive to do so, Clovis added. …

Clovis said this does not mean the Trump campaign is against the liberal arts. “The liberal arts education is the absolute foundation to success in life,” Clovis said, adding that he hoped business and engineering and health professions and education students would include liberal arts courses in their college educations. But it is a different thing altogether, Clovis said, to focus on such fields. “If you choose to major in the liberal arts, there are issues associated with that.”

Unless of course you can get into Harvard. According to Clovis, “‘If you go to Harvard, you can major in anything you want.’”

Wow. He’s like the father we should all be grateful we didn’t have.

Let’s pick this apart.

Yes, Student Loans Are Awful

Student loans are a major problem in this country. A new study has found that “People who had outstanding balances on their student loans when they graduated or dropped out of college had lower net worth, fewer financial and nonfinancial assets, and homes with lower market values when they reached age 30.” That held true even after researchers controlled for other variables.

People of color fare particularly badly. “For black young adults, leaving college burdened with student loans may be especially detrimental, diminishing their net worth by 40 percent compared with white students, the researchers found.”

So, it is true that more seventeen year olds need to be warned about the dangers of putting the equivalent of a Maserati on a credit card.

Without Loans, Though, Whither College?

A college degree is increasingly mandatory in order to access or remain in the middle class. Tightening restrictions on lenders, and removing the federal government from the equation, is going to severely reduce the number of people who can get a BA. It will reduce class mobility as surely as the GI bill accelerated it.

Since many people would argue that the GI bill was one of the ways that midcentury America became “great” in the first place, this is pretty damn ironic position for Trump to take.

Nobody Majors In The Liberal Arts Anyway

It seems clear that Trump wants to turn universities into trade schools. As it happens, many of them are already heading that way. The humanities have been in crisis for a long time — decades, even.

Though the decline of the humanities is getting a lot of attention now, the major drop in enrollments happened between 1970 and 1985. Humanities enrollments dipped from 17.2 percent of all degrees in 1967 to around seven percent in the early 1980s. In 2011, humanities degrees still constituted 6.9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. In other words, the decline stabilized ten years before current freshmen were even born.

This is especially true at state schools, according to the New Republic:

Public universities have undergone a sea change in the past quarter century, as state funding has been steadily, and at times precipitously, withdrawn. Universities, in turn, have come to value especially those programs that can generate revenue through alumni donations, external grants, or tuition. Under this new business model, humanities programs suffer in general and small departments, like classics and philosophy, find themselves perpetually under threat, no matter what their historical significance to higher learning.

Clovis’s 16th century French art major? He’s a myth, basically. A boogieman built along the lines of President Reagan’s Welfare Queens. The vast majority of students taking out loans are not going into six figures of debt because they’re passionate about the Renaissance. They’re studying things they hope, or assume, are more practical.

But! Liberal Arts Degrees Are Valuable

As Time magazine reports,

there is life after liberal arts — just ask these 10 CEOs. From a self-proclaimed “completely unemployable” history major, to a B-average communications student at a No. 91-ranked state school, to a hippie philosophy dropout who wanted to fix capitalism, here’s how these formerly disgruntled liberal arts majors beat everyone else to the helms of some top companies.

Here’s a similar list via Business Insider:

While the liberal arts are often bemoaned for offering few post-college job opportunities, the truth is that a great many of our nation’s most successful business executives and political figures spent their undergraduate careers studying things like classics and psychology.

And here’s a concurring opinion from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which commissioned a report and found that liberal arts majors actually make more than pre-professional majors during their peak earning years:

Responding to concerns about whether college is still worth it and whether liberal arts* majors provide a solid foundation for long-term employment and career success, the report compares earnings trajectories and career pathways for liberal arts majors with the earnings trajectories and career pathways for those majoring in science and mathematics, engineering, and professional or preprofessional fields like business or education. …

Liberal Arts Majors Close Earnings Gaps — Earn More than Professional Majors at Peak Earnings Ages

At peak earnings ages (56–60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields. These data include all college graduates working full-time, including those with only a baccalaureate degree and those with both a baccalaureate and graduate or professional degree.

Emphasis mine.

So take that, Clovis.

In case you want a more abstract and less practical defense, that piece in the New Republic also waxes poetic about the importance of the humanities, in kind of a lovely way:

Many people make eloquent cases for the importance of humanistic learning and argue cogently for its vital role in civic life. A democracy can only be as energetic as the minds of its citizens, and the questions fundamental to the humanities are also fundamental to a thoughtful life (What is the good? the nature of beauty? Do we need God?).

“A democracy can only be as energetic as the minds of its citizens.” When we starve and shrink the minds of the next generation, everyone suffers.

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