It came as a sudden shock to us when our friends in student housing at The King’s College received past-due rent notices in February and an announcement that finishing the semester was up in the air. King’s is a liberal arts college in the Financial District of New York City with a student population of just over three hundred. Rumors about financial troubles spread fast among such a small school, but we never thought King’s would close this unexpectedly. 

King’s has since announced that the school will make it through this semester, but anything past that is unknown. Our alma mater has received a surprising amount of publicity about its likely closure, all outlets citing various explanations—the loss of donors, leadership problems, low enrollment, rising interest rates, increase in tuition, and the list goes on.    

King’s is not the only liberal arts college facing permanent demise. Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan, is a 126-year-old liberal arts college that will be forced to close its doors after this semester due to “a combination of demographic changes, with fewer high school graduates available, a steep decrease in interest in going to college among those graduates, and an unbearable debt load.” In Alabama, Birmingham Southern College is facing the same possibility. Quest University in British Columbia is shutting down at the end of April. Trinity International University of Deerfield, Illinois announced in February it is shifting its undergrad program entirely online after this semester ends.  

A lot of the words used in the colleges’ statements echo the same tune: a perfect storm of COVID, drastic decreases in admission, and low funds.

News of King’s pending shutdown caused much reflection on what our time at King’s meant to us and the value of a liberal arts education. A small group of current freshmen created a website where students, alumni, staff, and faculty of the King’s community have written letters about our college experience. Some faculty have written other articles and social media posts expressing their frustrations and concerns. As experience reveals time and time again, often you do not realize the value of something until it is gone or almost gone. 

We were drawn to our alma mater because of its mission to shape future leaders that transform society and lead strategic institutions and its Core Curriculum of politics, philosophy, and economics. 

Every student at King’s takes rigorous classes with around 20 students that challenge us intellectually and personally. The small class sizes enable great Socratic dialogue. Foundations of Politics looks at great thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle, that ask enduring questions like what is justice and what is the purpose of the law. Foundations of Philosophy urges students to examine the purpose of human life and the value of humility and apply our learning to our personal lives through reflection papers. Economic Thought and Practice poses questions like “does commercial society make us greedy?” and “where does value come from?” These universal questions then breed answers and more questions.           

A liberal arts education prompts learners to think critically about the good, the bad, and the ugly of ideas and history. One professor at King’s calls himself a “critical patriot,” proud to be an American, but also quick to judge where the United States has gone wrong. He urges students to take authors on their own terms and not rule out controversial beliefs at face value. 

Students are not forced to agree with professors but rather advised to consider different ideas and push back respectfully. As Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” 

This is increasingly important especially as many higher education institutions are becoming echo chambers that do not allow for dissenting opinions. For example, in a survey at Harvard University “of 236 members of the faculty of arts and sciences, just seven of those who responded—3%—identified as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very conservative,’ compared with 183 who identified as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very liberal.’”    

At King’s, learning is not confined to the classroom and four years of undergrad. Living in the Big Apple, students are forced to engage with many cultures simultaneously. Because our school does not provide a meal plan, we had to learn how to budget, grocery shop, and cook. In the city that never sleeps, we had to navigate balancing work, school, and social life. 

King’s is a Christian school that encourages communal and religious life, but this life is never forced on students. Our school gives opportunities, and students choose to participate or not, getting them ready for real life, which comes with many choices. When we both graduated this past December, adult life was less daunting because of the way King’s and our liberal arts education prepared us for a lifetime of learning. 

Professors at King’s care more about who students are as people and who they are becoming than that they ace an exam. And so, they invest in students personally by introducing them to their families and having them over for dinner.  

This is why we went to a liberal arts college. It taught us how to think, write, and consider multiple perspectives before settling on an opinion—lasting skills that do not fade as technology and culture change. It taught us to be fearless in the face of uncertainty. It taught us to be comfortable with not having all the answers, but not allowing this to keep us from seeking answers. It taught us to examine our personal character and virtue. 

Unfortunately, not all students see the liberal arts this way. According to research by the Art and Science Group, “about three-quarters of students agree with the statement that a college education that prepares them for a job is the best kind, versus only 31% who agree with the idea that employers want graduates with a liberal arts background.” But research demonstrates that a liberal arts education proves valuable for the workforce even if this is not the main purpose of such education. 

A study by the Center on Education and the Workforce found that over time “the median ROI of liberal arts colleges is nearly $200,000 higher than the median for all colleges.” A Job Outlook survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that 82% of employers look for excellent written communication skills, 81% look for problem-solving skills, and 72% look for analytical/quantitative skills—all skills that a liberal arts education teaches. 

Even though our school and other liberal arts colleges are facing the threat of closure, at the same time, other classical schools at the K-12 and collegiate levels are booming. The University of Dallas just celebrated its second-largest incoming class, at Benedictine College, enrollment doubled between 2004 and 2022, and at Hillsdale College, applications are up by 53%. We hope other liberal arts schools will follow in these schools’ wake. 

While it is hard to tell what makes one liberal arts school thrive and another decline, what is certain is that New York City will feel a void if The King’s College has to close after this semester.