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Welfare Overhaul Takes The Liberal Out Of Education Workfirst Rules Stress Job Skills

Parents of college students have said it for years. Now it’s official Washington state policy for welfare recipients: If you want to land a job, don’t get a liberal arts degree.

Those fascinating courses in anthropology and English literature - not to mention Peruvian folk dancing and haiku writing - don’t count toward work training, according to new rules for welfare recipients.

“We want to see a degree that is going to lead directly to a job,” said Terry Covey, an administrator with the state Department of Social and Health Services and holder of a sociology degree from Whitworth College. “We feel most (liberal arts) degrees are not a direct path” to a job.

Instead, welfare recipients attending college - about 375 at Eastern Washington University and 600 at local community colleges - will be told to concentrate on majors popular with business, such as computer science, and vocation courses, such as teacher certification.

If they stay with a liberal arts major, they likely will lose their benefits, possibly as soon as this fall. Exceptions can be made, including students well into their program and students who work long hours outside of class.

EWU liberal arts students defend aesthetic education.

“Why can’t they see the intrinsic value of beauty?” protested Laurel Kerns, a senior majoring in psychology and women’s studies. She runs the campus center for nontraditional students, some of whom are on welfare. “I guess humanity isn’t dollar-friendly.”

In the future, recipients of welfare - or WorkFirst as it will be known next month - will be pushed away from four-year college programs in general because they eat up much of the five-year cap on benefits.

Instead, they’ll be directed to shorter vocational training programs at community colleges.

That saddens Flash Gibson, vice provost of EWU. He mourns the prevailing “careerist” philosophy of education that discourages students from dabbling.

“Successful people often have a broad background,” said Gibson.

But there is no place for academic enrichment in the lean, focused WorkFirst requirements. “Work is the primary goal of WorkFirst, and sending a person off to school is not going to be a primary objective,” said Covey.

, DataTimes

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