Chinas plan to cut degrees is a bad decision

On November 28, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has borrowed many of his misguided education ideas from Texas, but he may have a new role model: China.

China's Ministry of Education announced plans last week to reduce or eliminate college degree programs that aren't producing enough employable graduates, according to state-run media Xinhua.

While the move seems extreme, it also seems like the next logical step from what Scott is suggesting. He wants colleges to shift focus away from liberal arts degrees toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.

China didn't single out any specific majors to cut, but in a manufacturing-heavy country, liberal arts majors are likely the most vulnerable. According to the Wall Street Journal, programs such as Russian have already been reduced.

Unemployed graduates are a growing problem in the U.S. and China, but leaders in both countries have underestimated the value of a liberal arts degree. While history or English majors may not have specific technical skills, they leave college with a more nuanced skill set.

Scott wants Florida universities to measure critical thinking and writing proficiency, talents that a liberal arts major is more likely to foster. These degrees teach students how to analyze information and reason properly. Graduates can learn specific information and skills on the job, but a specialized degree won't necessarily teach them how to think.

If China wants to move away from its image as a manufacturer of cheap goods, it needs to foster innovation and creativity as well.

Though higher education is rapidly expanding, college graduates remain a minority. China's 2010 Census showed only 8,930 individuals per every 100,000 with university educations.

The government wants to downsize or cut programs with job placement rates at less than 60 percent for two consecutive years. Part of the problem is that the job market is not keeping up with advances in education. According to the Journal, graduates with biology degrees, an important STEM field, are not in high demand.

Many have blamed strict government control over education for stifling creativity and forcing Chinese students to travel overseas for their educations, according to the Journal.

If China wishes to become an intellectual world leader, liberal arts majors should be embraced. Though some in the U.S. question their value, non-STEM majors can achieve a great deal of success in this country.

When President Barack Obama took office, the majority of his Cabinet nominees held non-STEM degrees, such as political science and sociology. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a history major.

While liberal arts degrees may not be producing highly employable graduates right now, they do provide the kind of education China's future leaders will need.

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