Ever heard the one about “How the liberal arts major says hello?”
(answer: “Would you like fries with that?”)
[go ahead, guffaw]
An NPR reporter recounts the old joke in a recent piece on how new trends could be challenging the notion that specialization in higher ed is the only path to success. They go on to tell the story of how food giant ConAgra — think Chef Boyardee and Marie Callender’s — has revamped their internship program to include the recruitment of such “off the beaten path” employees as journalism or biology majors.
Could it be? Are media outlets finally recognizing that there is value in educational pursuits that don’t reduce to 1′s and 0′s?
USA Today seems to think so. In their article “Liberal arts education lends an edge in down economy,” they highlight a study by the Social Science Research Council last Wednesday. “Recent college graduates who as seniors scored highest on a standardized test to measure how well they think, reason and write — skills most associated with a liberal arts education — were far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest.”
The article goes on to say that “Students who had mastered the ability to think critically, reason analytically and write effectively by their senior year were:
-Three times less likely to be unemployed (3.1% vs. 9.6%).
-Half as likely to be living with their parents (18% vs. 35%).
-Far less likely to have amassed credit card debt (37% vs. 51%).”
Certainly a different take on how to succeed in business without really trying.
Listen, I get it. We all have bills to pay. So it’s easy to understand why it’s so attractive to eschew the pursuit of “loftier” topics and embrace your inner techie (or vo-techie). Doubly-so in a crap economy with a job market that seems to all but demand it. There’s always going to be a need for those skills.
But doesn’t it make you sad to think of learning as simply a means to an end?
Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the transformative classroom experience that changed my life, but we can’t deny the benefit of pursuing knowledge — not just skills. We can’t just prepare graduates for that first job out of college, as it will most likely be the first of many. And most grads will not only change jobs, but also careers and even industries in the course of their professional lives.
Historically, the liberal arts were those subjects that were considered essential for the free citizen to study (where are my Latin geeks? “liber” = free). These great societies valued Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric in a way that today we seem to only reserve for keeping up with the Kardashians. Too harsh? Perhaps, but you get the point.
Sure, I’m biased. And yes, I know we have an issue of college cost and access to education in this country. I don’t have all the answers — but I do have friends, now doctors, who shined in med school interviews because they could talk as much about Plato as platelets.
Bottom line: not every high school graduate belongs in college. But we can’t discredit the value of teaching tomorrow’s leaders how to speak, think, write and make decisions effectively.
That’s the power of a liberal arts education. Let’s value that. And for those admissions-folks out there struggling to explain the benefits of your institution: let’s sell that to prospects and parents.
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