A concept familiar to those in business and finance is cropping up more often in college searches: ROI, or return on investment. No longer limited to investment banking, parents, students and educators across the nation are now wondering whether all degrees are created equal, especially in light of expensive college costs.

Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, wrote in The Atlantic in 2012:

We keep telling young Americans that a bachelor’s degree in history is as valuable as, say, a chemical engineering degree — but it’s just not true anymore. All degrees are not created equal. And if we — parents, educators, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders — maintain this narrow-minded approach, then we are not just failing young indebted Americans and their families. We are harming the long-term vitality of our economy.

And it’s not just punditry. Lawmakers have criticized the liberal arts, too. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin suggested he wanted state colleges to produce more electrical engineers and fewer French literature majors.

So, what’s the purpose of liberal arts colleges today? Are they changing to meet the needs of a 21st-century student?

This show is a part of “Enrolled,” our series on education. Find all the shows from the series here

Show produced by Morgan Givens, text by Gabrielle Healy.


  • Gerry Greenberg Associate professor of Russian and linguistics and senior associate dean for academic affairs, humanities, curriculum, instruction and programs, Syracuse University
  • Graziella Parati Professor of Italian, comparative literature and women's and gender studies; director, The Leslie Center for the Humanities, Dartmouth
  • John Horgan Science journalist; director, the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology; @horganism

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