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Liberal Arts: A Valuable Degree

March 19, 2014

By Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

"The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many fact, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks." Albert Einstein

As college and university tuitions go higher and higher, parents and their children worry about getting their money’s worth from these schools. Even more stressful is that many high school graduates don’t have a career goal yet. Rather than pushing your child into a major that may not be his or her strength, consider liberal arts.

Is a liberal arts education right for your child? In order to answer that question, we should first talk about what the liberal arts are. They include English, math, the sciences (physical, biological, social), history and civilization, humanities, the arts (art, music, and theatre), languages, and similar fields of learning.

Most major colleges and universities require all freshmen to take and pass a series of courses– mostly liberal arts disciplines– as a foundation or core. If students approach these courses seriously, they will provide a solid grounding for any of the professional, job-oriented programs.

Students develop a number of valuable skills in the liberal arts. These skills can be applied in work of all sorts. These skills include:

  • Knowing how to think in a coherent and relevant manner.
  • Acquiring a broad knowledge base that reaches around the globe, through the past centuries, and across many disciplines.
  • Learning to integrate that diversified knowledge to solve problems, create new ideas, and advance the goals of businesses, government, and other institutions.
  • Being able to communicate effectively and gracefully in writing, speaking, and through social and public media.
  • Being equipped to think critically and independently and to make sound judgments.
  • Developing a global perspective through a mastery of foreign languages and cultures.

Employers are looking for people with these skills. The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a recent national survey regarding what employers are looking for in college graduates. Nearly all those surveyed said, “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

It sounds like they are looking for liberal arts graduates. This study finding further demonstrates the need for liberal arts graduates: 90 percent want to hire people with ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for new learning.

After all, one third of the Fortune 500 CEO’s have liberal arts degrees. Liberal arts graduates are equipped to go in many directions; they are flexible and agile, quick to learn and creative. Not surprisingly, many start up their own businesses.

As President of Oregon State University Dr. Edward J. Ray declared, “…in today’s world of changing demographics, 24/7 news cycles, and a global marketplace, the liberal arts are critical to success in every economic sector. There can be no doubt that they play an essential part in providing a foundation for learning in every professional field.”


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