The liberal arts have been under fire for several years now. This is due to two main contributing factors: 1.) growing cost of college; and 2.) demand for students in career-ready fields (e.g. engineering, finance, computer science, and medicine). Most of the conversation about higher education focuses on overall value and ROI. What majors earn the most right out of college? Which institutions produce graduates with the highest salaries? Is a liberal arts education still worthwhile in the 21st century?
Value of a Liberal Arts Education
The short answer is simple, YES! We live in a rapidly changing global economy – some may even go so far as to say that the world is flat. Nowadays, millennials are averaging five to seven career changes in a life time, which provides ample evidence that a liberal arts education is more valuable than ever before. Furthermore, a study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that nearly three-fourths of employers in the United States would advise students to pursue a well-rounded liberal arts education.
Here are seven reasons why a liberal arts education is worth its weight in gold!
What is the Value of a Liberal Arts?
The purpose of a liberal arts education is to increase one’s ability to think critically and analyze information effectively. The liberal arts curricula enhance the brains’ ability to think within and across all of the major disciplines. This serves on well throughout their life. While students chose a specific major when they attend a liberal arts college, they are also required to take courses in a variety of disciplines. Furthermore, there is a heavy emphasis on writing and effective communication.
Liberal arts colleges also tend to be smaller in scale and offer a much smaller student to professor ratio. Students also have greater access to their professors and a plethora of research opportunities from which to pick if they wish to pursue.
A Liberal Arts Education is Far from Useless in the 21st Century Job Market
In our increasingly evolving, globalized world, liberal arts colleges produce critical thinkers who have the confidence and flexibility to continually learn new skills and material. In his book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman states that “in an age when parts or all of many jobs are constantly going to be exposed to digitization, automation, and outsourcing…it is not only what you know but how you learn that will set you apart. Because what you know today will be out-of-date sooner than you think.”
Even if you are certain about a career path you want to pursue, a liberal arts background is beneficial. For instance, it can help you make it to the top of your field. A student who is certain they want to be a doctor could attend a liberal arts college. During this time they can pursue a major in psychology and minor in economics before attending medical school. As a doctor, she could call upon her psychology degree to better understand and relate to her patients. The strong writing skills gained from her liberal arts background would help her to effectively communicate her research findings through publications. She would benefit from her background in economics if she decided to open her own practice one day.
The Future of the Liberal Arts Education
It’s also important to note that while many families are concerned with immediate ROI and degrees that command high starting salaries right out of college, AAC&U’s “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment” report found that by their 50s, liberal arts majors on average earn more annually than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields. STEM majors tend to earn the highest salaries out of college and typically earn more overall. Liberal arts graduates are seeing a greater ROI – it’s just not as immediate.
Steve Jobs once said, “Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing”. It’s important to remember this. There is a clear demand for STEM and specialized degrees these days. However, a liberal arts education still holds value in the world today.