The Value of a Liberal Arts Degree

 cr: Ayse Koca

cr: Ayse Koca

Liberal arts are fields of study intended to provide students with general knowledge in a wide subject area. They include subjects such as humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Basically, any degree program that doesn’t train students for one specific job falls under liberal arts.

The idea of the study of liberal arts developed in ancient Greece. These areas were considered essential subjects of study for free individuals to take on active roles in society.  The aim of students of liberal arts was to gain virtue, ethics, and knowledge in a wide range of fields. The students of these disciplines aimed to articulate and share their knowledge and take on active roles in society.

Since then, liberal arts has maintained its aim of producing well-rounded individuals. These people are able to look at issues from a broader perspective, think critically, and articulate their thoughts clearly to those around them. A liberal arts education provides students with the broad thinking skills they need in order to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the well-being of others.

Often, students do not pursue the liberal arts out of fear of not finding a job. The fields of study within liberal arts are very broad. It is difficult to pinpoint a specific occupation associated with a certain field of study.

When looking into university programs, one of the first questions students (and, often, their parents) ask is: “what job can I get  with this degree?” However this focus on university as job training reflects our failure to understand the following:

 

1. The way jobs work

2. The valuable skillset developed from a liberal arts degree

3. The purpose of higher education

 

Jobs aren’t linear. Not everyone who studies psychology becomes a psychologist. Most chemistry majors don’t become chemists, and most English majors don’t become baristas. Choosing a major doesn’t necessarily mean choosing a career path. Careers don’t develop in straight lines, and higher education is certainly meant to challenge the idea that there is only one thing for everyone.

For the most part, students grow into who they are during the first few years of their undergraduate degree. Changing goals for the future and changing one’s field of study is part of the process of growth and self-realization. Focusing on education as training for a future job doesn’t allow much room for this growth. School becomes a chore and the looming prospect of not finding a job upon graduating grows on students.

While selecting programs of study, many students write off liberal arts degrees as useless and too broad. However, employers search for candidates with the skillset of those developed through a liberal arts degree. They search for people who are able to work with others, think broadly, and challenge conventional wisdom.

Some more skills developed through a liberal arts education include effective oral and written communication skills, the ability to learn and synthesize new ideas, critical and reflective reading skills, effective research skills, organization and time-management skills, information literacy skills, the ability to adapt easily to situations, ethical decision-making skills, the ability to pose meaningful questions and articulate points, self-confidence and self-understanding, foreign language skills, and cross-cultural knowledge. (source: www. topuniversities.com)

Unfortunately, our focus on university as job-training reflects our misunderstanding of the purpose of higher education. We have been taught that higher education is necessary in order to provide us with financial stability. Often it has been presented as an investment that will pay off once we graduate from an institution of higher learning and obtain a job with an annual salary. This capitalist teaching has deprived us of the long-lasting and influential reasons to pursue higher education. Higher education provides us with self-fulfillment, lifelong knowledge, and the ability to make valuable contributions to our communities.

Liberal arts are broad fields of study. When someone asks “what are you going to do with an English, philosophy, sociology, or history degree?” the answer can be complicated and even non-existent. However, upon graduating from a liberal arts field of study, students are equipped with a valuable skill set that will assist them in finding a job. More importantly, the knowledge and skills students obtain from a liberal arts degree will help them lead purposeful lives and obtain the leadership qualities necessary in order to make positive contributions to their communities.