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Liberal Arts at the Brink

Liberal Arts at the Brink

Victor E. Ferrall, Jr.

ISBN 9780674049727

Publication date: 03/15/2011

Liberal arts colleges represent a tiny portion of the higher education market—no more than 2 percent of enrollees. Yet they produce a stunningly large percentage of America’s leaders in virtually every field of endeavor. The educational experience they offer—small classes led by professors devoted to teaching and mentoring, in a community dedicated to learning—has been a uniquely American higher education ideal.

Liberal Arts at the Brink is a wake-up call for everyone who values liberal arts education. A former college president trained in law and economics, Ferrall shows how a spiraling demand for career-related education has pressured liberal arts colleges to become vocational, distorting their mission and core values. The relentless competition among them to attract the “best” students has driven down tuition revenues while driving up operating expenses to levels the colleges cannot cover. The weakest are being forced to sell out to vocational for-profit universities or close their doors. The handful of wealthy elite colleges risk becoming mere dispensers of employment and professional school credentials. The rest face the prospect of moving away from liberal arts and toward vocational education in order to survive.

Writing in a personable, witty style, Ferrall tackles the host of threats and challenges liberal arts colleges now confront. Despite these daunting realities, he makes a spirited case for the unique benefits of the education they offer—to students and the nation. He urges liberal arts colleges to stop going it alone and instead band together to promote their mission and ensure their future.


  • Well researched and well written, Victor Ferrall's warning of the demise of the liberal arts in American higher education should remind us of the difference between intellectually nurtured education for thinking, and occupational training. If we abandon the former for the latter, what happens to American intellectual leadership in an unpredictable future?

    —Donald M. Stewart, Former President & CEO Chicago Community Trust


  • Victor E. Ferrall, Jr. is President Emeritus of Beloit College.

Book Details

  • 304 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press