Schapiro emphasizes importance of liberal arts education during Wilmette talk


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

University President Morton Schapiro addresses a crowd at Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette. Schapiro discussed the importance of liberal arts education 30 years after former University President Arnold Weber spoke on the same topic.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

University President Morton Schapiro argued for the importance of a liberal arts education Tuesday during a talk at Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette.

The talk and Q&A came 30 years after former University President Arnold Weber discussed the same subject at the church. Julie Peterson (Weinberg ’85), a church member who organized the event, told the crowd that Schapiro was there to offer an updated look at the topic after years of change in academia.

Schapiro emphasized the value of comprehensive education and critiqued the recent trend of students shying away from the humanities in favor of a more pre-professional education. He said college graduates with liberal arts degrees are often more equipped to handle the fluid demands of their post-graduation jobs.

“The two most important fields are — and I say this as somebody who does math and econ — history and philosophy,” Schapiro said. “I would argue that the two most important fields for your own joy in life are art history and music.”

Schapiro also questioned the notion that only technical degrees lead to high-paying jobs. A classics major may make less money than an accounting major directly after graduation, he said, but down the road that same classics major’s salary will be higher than that of the accounting major.

Schapiro also spoke more generally about the value of college and the importance of choosing the right institution. Schapiro discussed the United States’ leading role in higher education and the increasing selectivity of universities across the country. Michael Mills, associate provost for University enrollment, told The Daily earlier this month that Northwestern’s admissions rate is expected to drop to under 10 percent this year.

A big problem facing higher education, Schapiro said, is a phenomenon called “undermatching,” where high-performing students from public school districts do not end up enrolling in selective colleges after graduation.

Schapiro attributed part of this problem to a shortage of guidance counselors at large public schools to tell students about more selective colleges and write them letters of recommendation.

He told The Daily he hopes places such as the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools, which partners with students from local schools, can help fill this gap.

In his speech, Schapiro also discussed common myths surrounding the “sticker price” of college tuitions, saying that only about 25 percent of students at public universities and 15 percent at private ones actually pay the full listed fees.

“(Education) is the best financial investment anyone can ever make,” he said.

Megan Beenblossom came to the talk from Chicago. Her son is a junior in high school and she said she was interested in hearing a college president’s perspective on the admissions process.

“It made me a lot more appreciative of a liberal arts education,” Beenblossom told The Daily. “(Schapiro) made me feel a lot better about the process and that there’s a school for everyone.”

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