Well-Rounded Liberal Arts Education vs. Job Skills: Do You Have to Choose?
Rick Santorum has been vocal in the news* about his disdain for higher education—calling colleges “indoctrination centers” that promote a certain political and religious (or should we say nonreligious?) worldview. With tuition rising and student debt growing in a difficult economy where students can’t afford these financial burdens, it’s becoming more and more common to question the value of a traditional liberal arts education.
Academics may claim that such an education is not intended purely as a gateway to a good job. But students who don’t land the jobs they want sometimes question why they paid all that money—and it’s a fair question.
Typically, people who pursue online job training courses are people who know exactly what they need. These are often adult students who are returning to school for strongly practical reasons—because they need a degree to land a new job or get a promotion, for example.
Adding another element into degree programs would likely make college and trade schools more expensive, not less—something that may not be politically popular in today’s economic climate.
A traditional liberal arts education is designed to be a bit different. The regional accreditation agencies that accredit most colleges throughout the US look for a broad, well-rounded education that introduces students to the sciences, the humanities, and the arts—regardless of which course of study they ultimately pursue. The point of this type of education is to give students a broad understanding of many facets of the world around them—and then, through learning and exploration, choose a field they’re passionate about and learn more about it for its own sake.
But the world doesn’t seem to see the traditional liberal arts degree the same way it’s viewed in academics. To many in the wider employment world, a online Bachelor’s degree is a minimum prerequisite for an entry-level job. It’s used as the basic credential for employment in many fields—and when a student with a humanities degree can’t find a job in his or her field, the degree program itself is sometimes blamed.
But do we really have to choose between job skills and a more well-rounded education? Students in fields such as the hard sciences or economics will likely not be held back by their majors. But all students could benefit from a practical course of study that teaches them how they might apply their degree in the real world—which careers they might be best suited for, and what entrepreneurial opportunities there may be for people with their passions. And those in more hands-on, trade-based programs would doubtless benefit from a more well-rounded education in addition to the practical skills they need.
Adding another element into degree programs would likely make college and trade schools more expensive, not less—something that may not be politically popular in today’s economic climate. However, students do need both a practical education and a solid grounding in culture and science as provided by the liberal arts.
*Inside Higher Ed: Rick Santorum’s Views On Education
The Chronicle of Higher Education: College At Risk
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Rick Santorum is Right
Boston University: Liberal Arts vs. Career Majors: What’s an Education For?
Forbes: A Career-Minded Liberal Arts Education
Bloomberg Business: Graduates Need Job Skills, Not Liberal Arts
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