This article examines the prominent narrative asserting that liberal arts colleges have continuously declined in number and status over the past 130 years. Bruce A. Kimball identifies problems in this declension narrative and proposes a revision positing that the decline of liberal arts colleges began only after 1970. Further, he maintains that the fraction of the U.S. population enrolling in collegiate liberal arts programs has remained surprisingly consistent over the past two centuries. That same fraction continues after 1970 because universities began to replicate the liberal arts college by establishing honors programs, and student enrollment after 1970 shifted from liberal arts colleges to the new subsidized honors programs in universities. Kimball concludes that this shift does not ensure that the fraction of enrollment in collegiate liberal arts will continue to remain consistent in the future. There is reason to doubt the long-term commitment of universities to supporting honors programs devoted to the traditional liberal arts college mission of fostering culture, community, and character, although this mission grows more important and complex as access to and diversity in higher education increase.

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