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Liberal Arts and STEMLiberal arts challenges and successes in the age of STEM: How we’re doing, how you can help 

STEM, STEM, STEM. Everywhere you look, pundits and prognosticators have been touting the need for more and better science, technology, engineering, and math education.

But of late, the STEM tide is turning a bit as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other major media have published articles saying that we cannot live by STEM alone. Rather, these important disciplines, combined with the liberal arts, yield the best results for employees, organizations, and society.

The rationale is simple: More than ever, we need critical thinkers, creative problem solvers and, effective communicators to make the most of all those formulas, algorithms, and codes.

We need people with not only today’s skills but also with the versatility to change careers five or six times in a working life – sometimes to careers not yet imagined.   

And we need people willing and able to be the world’s conscience; people who can help us learn from past mistakes so that we might not repeat them.

Higher education enrollment is decreasing

Despite employers’ much-publicized need for critical thinking, problem solving, and communicating, higher education in general – and liberal arts education in particular – are under fire. In one 2016 study (Public Opinion on Higher Education [September 12, 2016]), only 42 percent of Americans surveyed said that college education is necessary for success in the workforce. No wonder public college attendance fell another percent in 2016, with some colleges reporting decreases as high as 25 percent for entering freshmen.

Liberal arts is especially vulnerable

The IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI faces these challenges and more. To wit: Liberal arts credit hours are down. Why? In addition to the societal focus on STEM, more students arrive at IUPUI with advanced placement credits in liberal arts subjects – or credits for liberal arts courses taken from community colleges. What’s more, many parents have heard the warnings – right or wrong – from opinion leaders who’d have them believe that liberal arts learning is no longer relevant to employers or civil society.

Taking steps to reverse trends

So what’s a good liberal arts school to do? First, and foremost, we’re analyzing the trends and taking measures to address them. Second, through our #LiberalArtsWorks campaign, we’re demonstrating that employers and society do, indeed, value the skills liberal arts teaches. In particular, the IU School of Liberal Arts is delivering great new benefits. Our students can choose: 

  • Degrees and certificates that combine liberal arts with a technical or science education. One new example: the liberal arts and management program (LAMP), which combines liberal arts and business study.
  • A graduate minor in communicating science, through which scientists and health professionals can learn to better connect and engage with the public, policymakers, funders, students, and professionals from other disciplines.
  • Combined language and engineering courses to open a world of possibilities for IUPUI-trained engineers.
  • Medical Humanities, which links the health sciences with the liberal arts.
  • A new bachelor’s in law in liberal arts, which – for select students – can lead to a law degree at the IU McKinney School of Law in six years instead of the usual seven.

How our alumni, donors, and friends are helping – and how you can help

The School of Liberal Arts is a big contributor to the state of Indiana. Of 24,000 alumni, 65 percent live in Indiana and enhance the state’s economic, civic, and cultural environment.  

The school’s alumni, friends, and donors – including its faculty and staff – are also big contributors to the school. That’s especially important for a student population with greater-than-average financial needs.

In 2016 alone, our alumni, community members, and foundations gave $876,616.54 to support our students and programs. That’s an 85 percent increase over last year! Thank you! On top of that, we received an additional $150,000 in estate commitments.  

Nearly a fourth of our 2016 contributions came from faculty, staff, and retirees – a remarkable amount.

We are well ahead of schedule in fundraising for the IU Bicentennial Campaign, a multi-year university-wide fundraising effort, which runs through December 2019. Annual gifts and estate commitments are contributing to our success in accomplishing our $20 million goal.

What’s more, through grants, contracts, contributions, and commitments, the IU School of Liberal Arts generated nearly $5.5 million in outside revenue during 2016.

Bottom line: the IU School of Liberal Arts endowment has grown to $10,820,586.

Thank you for your support!

While we’re making progress, we have a long way to go. Our students, especially, feel the pressure of financing their education and paying off student loans once they graduate – so scholarships are more important than ever.

One innovative way to help is the Liberal Arts Works scholarship. Introduced in 2016, these awards are based on IUPUI studies showing that $2,500 in funding can make the tipping-point difference between staying in school or dropping out. The more students we help through that gap, the more we can help to graduate. So please, consider giving to our Liberal Arts Works Scholarship today.

For more information about this or other investment opportunities in the liberal arts, contact Liz Goodfellow at lgoodfel@iupui.edu/(317) 274-1496.