A Liberal Arts Education Will Allow Students to Exceed in STEM Fields


The twenty-first century has introduced the world to a new mean of business. Businesses operate in a race to discover the next technological breakthrough. Through these advancements, our world has become more globalized, but greater competition between nations also occurs. With the goal of creating a nation full of innovators and vocationally trained citizens, America has called for the improvement and growth of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics throughout our educational system. Barack Obama expressed the desire for more STEM educated Americans in his State of the Union Address in 2012 as, “Many business leaders who want to hire in the United States can’t find workers with the right skills” (Koebler 2012). The desire for more vocationally trained citizens questions the American educational system, and threatens the value of a liberal arts education. However, we should not be so quick to dismiss a liberal arts education. Liberal Arts colleges teach and train students to become leaders and critical thinkers that will improve and succeed in large technological corporations, making a liberal arts education a valuable asset to today’s widespread technological oriented business model.

Criticism of the liberal arts arises from the assumption that colleges practicing the liberal arts do not teach their students the vocational skill sets needed to succeed in today’s manufacturing dependent business world. Supposedly, employers search for graduates with a specific skill set such as engineering, health, or education and disregard those who earned a humanities or social science degree. In a recent survey of 281 human resource departments, “Liberal Arts majors were also shown to be the least likely to land a job, with only 2% of companies actively recruiting those graduates versus 27% for engineering and computer information systems and 18% for business graduates” (Fottrell 2014). However, the validity of this statistic is questionable as there is no insight into the background of these departments. Without knowing what companies these are or the type of business they are involved in, we cannot allow this statistic to speak for all companies. Critics also argue that in a society where the number of college degrees has begun to outnumber the amount of jobs available in the market, business’ search for primarily graduates with a MBA or a vocational degree. Such a competitive market requires, “Higher ed to prepare students for what the world is. As a student, you invest in yourself to become more employable” (Reuteman 2011).  The liberal arts are argued to be an outdated American educational system that needs to adapt to today’s market. Students need to learn to take responsibility for choosing an educational path that will prepare them for employment. STEM markets dominate today’s economic growth, and students need to prepare themselves for the growing demand in those fields. However, a liberal arts education does not ruin a student’s chance to succeed in such fields. Even at a liberal arts institution, a student can develop the vocational skills needed to survive in today’s market.

Although the main criticism of a liberal arts education is that it does not properly teach students vocational skills to succeed in today’s market, many employers argue that a degree in the liberal arts teaches students valuable skills essential to the workplace. The mission of a liberal arts institution, with slight variations at each college, is to educate students in a wide variety of subjects, teach student to become critical thinkers that can make logical decisions, develop leaders, and produce graduates that will help make society better for others. These skills are highly valued in many businesses, particularly in those of STEM origin. Forbes argues that, “Throughout the major U.S. tech hubs, whether Silicon Valley or Seattle, Boston or Austin, Tex., software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger” (Anders 2015). Although liberal arts alumni may lack the skills to develop new coding, many other variables are necessary to make the technology a success. Business management, sales, marketing, and finance are all essential to the success of a company, and the critical thinking and leadership skills obtained from the liberal arts prepare employees well for those positions. Many critics also forecast the fallacy that liberal arts majors will never earn a salary near that of someone who majored in a vocation field, but, “Additionally, a recent study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems showed that at peak earning ages, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in humanities or social sciences earn more than those with professional or pre-professional degrees” (Glaser 2015). The liberal arts not only prepare students to succeed in the market, but to excel as well. STEM may be the future, but the liberal arts are definitely a part of that future.

Many liberal arts colleges have adopted a transdisciplinary curriculum focusing on the liberal arts and STEM. This curriculum not only prepares students to become critical thinkers and leaders, but also vocationally prepared for a STEM heavy labor market. According to Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, liberal arts disciplines include humanities, language, social sciences, mathematics, and physical sciences. At the core of a liberal arts education persists mathematics and physical sciences, so it is astonishing to me that the liberal arts are criticized for not preparing STEM majors. Although Oxy does not offer engineering or technology majors, many other liberal arts institutions do. Carleton college describes a new transdisciplinary curriculum to tackle the world’s sustainability problems as, “An innovative model for moving toward reciprocal integration of business and STEM/liberal arts education by collaboratively developing, implementing, and rigorously assessing transdisciplinary undergraduate sustainability curricula…” (Carleton College 2015).  Liberal arts curriculums have adapted in such ways to accommodate the need for STEM majors as well as to improve the world. A purely STEM education will not prepare people to solve the riddles of our planet such as global warming and the sustainability issues. Therefore a transdisciplinary curriculum allows students to develop the skills to succeed in a vocational role and improve the Earth. This year’s emphasize on sustainability at Occidental further demonstrates the adapting curriculum. Occidental hopes to engineer productive members of society that will make a difference, whether in be in a STEM field or not.

Even the students who do not receive a STEM degree at their undergraduate liberal arts college can still develop STEM skills. According to a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “About 40% of humanities and social sciences students attend graduate school versus 30% of professional and pre-professional students” (Fottrell 2014). Those who obtain liberal arts degrees have a better chance at attending graduate school where they can develop STEM or other occupational skills. Despite the articles opposition to liberal arts message, this statistic proves very important for liberal arts students. In a liberal arts education, a student can study a wide variety of books, subjects, philosophers, and history, and still go on to attend grad school in a vocational or technological based subject. Personally, I intend to major in mathematics and economics, but I have enjoyed learning a wide variety of subjects ranging from the history of anarchism to modern philosophy in just my first year. Unlike at other institutions, Oxy has offered me a diverse environment and study that will further my development as a scholar and human being, making me confident that I will succeed in the next step in my life whether it is graduate school or the labor force.

Ultimately, a liberal arts education does prepare students for the STEM dominated market. All fields require leaders, critical thinkers, and good citizens, and a liberal arts education train people for those positions. The STEM oriented positions are feasible for liberal arts graduates as well, as mathematics and physical sciences are at the core of the liberal arts areas of study. Liberal arts college are beginning to offer transdisciplinary curriculums to satisfy the desire for STEM majors, so students can develop STEM skills at an undergraduate level. I believe that the skills developed from attending a liberal arts school are invaluable, and that will keep the liberal arts as an essential part of the American educational system.


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