For the last few months university students in Quebec have been “on strike” from classes because of the government’s intention to raise tuition by $325 a year over five years for a grand total of an additional $1625.
It is an interesting turn of a phrase. Calling this a strike is about as ridiculous as calling a four door sedan a “couple” (yet automotive marketing departments proffered that absurdity a while ago).
So now a strike consists of paying for a service and then refusing to use it? What a great idea! Let’s see, I really want to stick it to Starbucks. What should I do? If I followed the students’ model then perhaps I could purchase a $100 Starbucks gift card … and refuse to use it! Yeah, that’d show ’em!
Yes, I admit it, I’m less than sympathetic with the burdens of students with the lowest tuition in Canada facing a, gasp, $1625 tuition hike over five years. Perhaps they ought to take a visit to Greece for a reality check.
Okay, I just had to get that off my chest. My real point is not to gripe about a culture of entitlement but rather to use the student protest as a lauching point for a reflection: what’s an education worth? More particularly, what’s a liberal arts education worth?
I’ve been thinking about this for quite awhile. To begin with, the trends of university enrollment show that liberal arts education is not valued nearly as much as it once was, and for a very practical reason: it doesn’t secure a well paying job the way other educational programs do . That’s one big reason why enrollment in humanities’ programs has dropped by half over the last forty years. And the long term projection is that this trend will continue.
I thought about this a month ago as I read through the classifieds at Kijiji in search for a new motorcycle. The ads were FULL of the most woeful grammatical mistakes. Stuff like this:
Sweet bike. Nevur ben drooped.
No test pilates plese.
As I read those ads I wondered how many of those people made salaries substantially more than mine. (Many of them were selling bikes much nicer than I could afford and the photos of the bikes often included very nice houses, fifty thousand dollar pick up trucks and sea-doos in the background, all tip offs for a substantial salary.)
And yet they never learned how to write.
And I asked myself, would I trade my liberal arts education for a larger salary? Would I give up the ability to make words do what I want them to do for a six figure pay check?
Happily I could answer no.
And it’s not just me. In the last few weeks I’ve asked a number of people with degrees in the humanities who have low paying jobs and who have faild to get a job in their area of training, would they trade their education for a higher salary in another field? Without fail all have said no.
Apparently we haven’t all become pragmatists about education. Many of us still appreciate that education is first about making good citizens. Sadly nobody seems to be in the streets protesting the demise of liberal arts education. But compared to that loss a piddly hike in tuition is small potatoes indeed.