National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring/Summer 2014, Volume 15, Number 1.


Copyright © 2014 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


The liberal arts, first described in Republican Rome, have been a component of higher education since the advent of the medieval university in the eleventh century. Despite such historical lineage, the value of a liberal arts education is continuously and publicly called into question, and this is a special problem for honors programs, most of which are rooted in the liberal arts. In the public debate about the liberal arts, politicians often insist that higher education must produce quantifiable results and consider subjects such as philosophy unnecessary at best and useless at worst. For example, Patrick McCrory, Governor of North Carolina, endorsed legislation to base funding for state higher education on post-graduate employment rather than enrollment. “It’s not based on butts in seats, he said, but on how many of those butts can get jobs” (Inside Higher Ed par. 3). McCrory is not alone as numerous public figures argue for a concentrated focus on specific job training as an efficient path to financial stability. An uncertain economic climate adds sharpness to these heated public debates about what form of education will properly prepare students for an increasingly technology-driven world, and honors education has a lot at stake in these debates. The fate of the liberal arts is in many ways the fate of honors as well.