Neoliberal values are dramatically affecting higher education in the United States, with a focus on running these institutions as businesses and molding students into productive workers. This shift toward training and away from traditional liberal arts education at U.S. universities and colleges has occurred even as studies demonstrate that the ability to adapt in a rapidly evolving marketplace promotes long-term professional success. While neoliberalism and traditional liberal arts education are often seen as antithetical, we show how one anthropology program has combined these values into pedagogical practice through a select subset of high impact practices to improve academic outcomes for low achieving students. Student feedback shows that they value our approach as a positive feature of our major. This study finds that neoliberal skills-based training and academically rigorous liberal arts education are not mutually exclusive and, in conjunction, can lead to improved student outcomes.


This article arose out of a session at the American Anthropological Association in December 2014. We would like to thank the organizers, the discussant, and the other speakers. We appreciate the thoughtful feedback from the anonymous reviewers of our manuscript. We also acknowledge the hard work of our many students who have successfully completed our program, and the anthropology faculty members who have worked diligently to make their learning experiences meaningful.