Should liberal arts majors pay more?

Full disclosure: I am currently a prospective English (and possibly something else) major at the College of William and Mary, a school known for, among other things, a borderline obsession with all things liberal arts. As such, my opinions relating to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s attempts to emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors in his own state may be slightly biased. That said, I will at least try to uphold the banner of journalistic integrity and objectivity in my assessment of Scott’s policy initiatives.

That last bit was a lie.

Scott proposes that students at state universities in Florida who choose to major in science, technology, engineering or math — known as STEM fields — continue to pay current prices for tuition, but that students who opt to study most non-STEM subjects (i.e. English, business, philosophy, etc.) see an increase in their tuition.

Can we get Clint Eastwood to bring his chair down to Florida? Somebody needs a talking to.

The implication of Scott’s proposal for the people of Florida is two-fold. First, it says that higher education should serve the interests of the state before the interests of the student, and second, it implies that the government has such a vested interest in the economic well-being of its citizens that it should have the power to control the minutiae of its citizens’ day-to-day lives, including what they study in college.

Neither of these ideas sits well with me.

Another disclosure: I’ve been a left-leaning Democrat for as long as I’ve been capable of being irritatingly self-righteous. I loved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and I all but jumped for joy when the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate clause this past summer. I’ve never been comfortable with the Ronald Reagan-esque government-as-enemy-of-the-people aesthetic and the idea of social safety nets feels to me like Christmas. And yet, I just cannot get behind Scott’s plan for Floridian higher education. It feels too much like coercion.

I trust that Scott’s heart is in the right place, that he is looking out for the fiscal future of both his citizens and his state — a future that he sees in the hands of STEM majors. But what about the personal fulfillment and happiness that an education can give to a student, and what happens if a student simply does not want to go into a STEM field? What about the would-be authors and artists, journalists and civil servants? What happens when the family of a bright high school senior has only enough money for her to major in a STEM field, even though her true passion is philosophy? It doesn’t seem right that a factor beyond that student’s control, such as her parents’ income, should be the deciding factor in what she studies, especially when the government is mandating that she make a trade-off between an academically enriching four years and her family’s financial stability.

Going to college should not force a trade-off between money and happiness; it should strike a balance. Scott’s plan does not provide a balance.

I have no illusions that my English (and possibly something else) major will guarantee me a job after graduation. It is not inconceivable that, in a few years’ time, I will fulfill the destiny of my Millennial Generation and find myself back in my old room in my parents’ house with a liberal arts degree in one hand and a thinning wallet in the other. But I remain, perhaps naively, optimistic.

My choices and their consequences will remain my own despite what Scott has to say about it.

Email Zachary Frank at


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