Liberal Arts is a Good Root, but Growth is Vital

Last week I was speaking to a Junior at Occidental who was stressing out over a summer internship. Many of her friends had jobs or internships planned that would ideally result in a full time job after graduating. There are still seniors questioning whether they will have a job to work at in less that six months. Students pay large amounts of money in tuition that is supposed to result in income afterwards. The question emerges whether going to college is worth the cost and if a Liberal Arts Institution is the correct type of school to choose. College, specifically Liberal Arts, is worth the investment if some improvements are made to benefit the students. Along with a Liberal Arts education, institutions should work to provide networking opportunities and develop technological skills in the digital age, and adapt.

Liberal Arts degrees offer students the ability to be leaders in society, but the networking opportunities at these schools can prove more valuable. Jessica Kleinman writes in a Forbes article about the benefits of Liberal Arts instead of vocational programs. She addresses that great jobs might come out of being a computer engineer in current times, but people who are leaders in society are better hires. Kleinman acknowledges that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were dropouts that succeeded, while questioning how many people tried to do the same, but failed.  College is more than just focusing on a major to dictate success in life. Kleinman writes, “My advice: Do what you love, study what interests you, get good internships, connect with as many people as possible who might help you land a job, be willing to work hard and be resourceful-and you’ll be fine”(Kleinman 2014). The advice that Kleinman gives is not only a great lesson for college, but after graduating as well. Developing relationships is extremely important to job searches and can be even more beneficial than a degree. According to Courtney Stricklin, the Assistant Director of Employer Relations at Occidental College, over 80% of jobs and internships are given based off of connections. Developing connections in college with other people that are striving to be successful too can sometimes be more vital than studying by oneself in their room.

Imagine the value of a Liberal Arts degree that provides the students with the technological skills as well as the leadership ability. Elizabeth Segran demonstrates great examples of students with Liberal Arts degrees being needed in the workplace. She understands that sometimes when one speaks with technology focused workers that the technology specialist understands the functions, but lacks other abilities outside the specific job. Segran spoke to the CEO of web advertising platform Media Alpha, Steve Yi, who talked through his first hand experience. Yi said, “The perspective I find most lacking is an understanding of what motivates people and how to balance multiple factors that are at work outside the realm of technology”(Segran 2014). Steve Yi speaks eloquently about a tough concept on how people are limited to a certain profession. Although some argue that this could be good for the economy, having students study a specific field and miss out on a well rounded education is limiting to their future. Liberal Arts students invest into their education to be leaders in society and in the workplace. Believers of this degree such as Segran and Yi, understand that these students don’t need to train one area of their lives. It is more important to bring a plethora of skills into a job to add different perspectives. An ideal way for students to become even more successful would be to build off the Liberal Arts curriculum to incorporate the specialized skills. Students who graduate with technical skillsets combined with the dexterity developed from Liberal Arts would be in extremely high demand to hire. If students could get better out-of-college jobs, then they will have a greater base to grow from and schools will be able to promote higher incomes from their students.

Those who do not agree supporters of Liberal Arts, believe that students who follow the educational path lack specific skills. The recent growth of the digital age has launched the need for workers specializing in technical computer savvy-skillsets. The critics of Liberal Arts argue that majors in English, Philosophy, Arts and other non-specialized fields struggle to find work after graduating. One study shows that “Only 2% of companies are actively recruiting liberal arts graduates versus 27% for engineering and computer information systems and 18% for business graduates” (Fotrell 2014). Although it seems that engineering would be a field that everyone should send their kids into, the workers are limited to what engineering can use them. Liberal Arts students who are studying art history may not be able to draw the plan for a building as well as someone who spent four years at a vocational school for architecture, but the Liberal Arts students are able to innovate and lead the projects that hire these workers. The study done shows how crucial it is for Liberal Arts schools to build specific skills into their curriculum too.

If technology and engineering companies want to hire students who specialized in those fields, then why did a valued 2.8 billion dollar company called Slackbot hire an editorial director who was a failed actress prior to taking the job? Well the company CEO who holds over $300 million dollars worth of stake in the company holds a Liberal Arts Degree in Philosophy. CEO, Stewart Butterfield said, “ Studying philosophy taught me two things… I learned how to write really clearly. I learned how to follow an argument all the way down, which is invaluable in running meetings. And when I studied the history of science, I learned about the ways that everyone believes something is true-like the old notion of some kind of ether in the air propagating gravitational forces-until they realized that is wasn’t true”(Anders 2015). Anders writes, “Software companies are discovering that Liberal Arts thinking makes them stronger”(Anders 2015). The reason that this thinking differs is because the goal of Liberal Arts education is to develop leaders and critical thinkers like Stewart Butterfield.

When deciding on a college, my father wanted to have a serious conversation about what type of degree I would receive if I chose to attend a Liberal Arts school such as Oxy. He had a very different college experience dual majoring in Finance and Accounting at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. He credits his education to his success in co-running his father’s business, but gives great credit to his brothers who run the business with him. His brother, my uncle Steve, who attended University of Kansas, studied journalism and writing. The experience and knowledge he gained from his education was not typically what my grandfather wanted to take over his business, but my uncle proved him otherwise. My Uncle Steve has skills that compliment my father’s and my other Uncle Stu who also went to Indiana.  A large part to their success, my father credits to my Uncle Steve because of the need for great communication skills and writing that he learned in college. Studying a specific skill set is not essential to succeeding after college. Likewise, a Liberal Arts education is not a guarantee for success. The core curriculum for Liberal Arts institutions has proven to be integral to development, but like all things, there is still room to grow. In the world we live in, networking and technological skills are vital to job success. If Liberal Arts institutions can build a greater emphasis on these two areas into the current curriculum, then students graduating will not have to worry about jobs. Throughout my first year, I have worked on personally incorporating other skill sets into the education I am receiving. The story shared to me by my father has given me motivation to pursue a degree at Occidental College and bring the skill sets I learn here along with the areas in which the college can improve to the workplace post-graduation.


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