Strength in Ambiguity: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

liberal arts

Liberal arts colleges have a mixed reputation in the public eye. Some view liberal arts colleges as a waste of money and time that could be better spent gaining practical job oriented skills. However, at the same time, liberal arts colleges are notorious for being elite small schools that provide a top notch education to students. A liberal arts education is actually extremely valuable because of the inherent academic rigor and the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of learning that is so lost in this day and age.

Although the world is currently hyper-focused on the job market and choosing colleges and majors that prepare people for careers, Jessica Kleiman shares a different perspective in the Forbes article, “Why Getting A Liberal Arts College Education Is Not A Mistake.” She mainly draws from anecdotal experience in the article, claiming “the classes I took…fueled my curiosity, strengthened my critical thinking and writing skills and made me knowledgeable on a variety of subjects” (Kleiman). Her strong advocacy for the skill set gained from a liberal arts education is based on her own experiences and therefore a reliable source. It must also be acknowledged that this is a fairly biased opinion and not an objective outlook on all forms of education, because she can only speak from her point of view. However, what she preaches is well known– liberal arts challenge students in a way that encourages growth. This is valuable in the long run because these skills are applicable everywhere in the professional world. Not only that, but students deepen and enhance their learning, broadening their knowledge in many different fields as opposed to focusing on one specific area of study. I have personally experienced the benefits of this, even in just one short semester at Occidental College. I am still currently undecided on a course of major, but so far at Oxy I haven’t been pressured to figure it out immediately. It is starting to become clear to me that the beauty of a liberal arts school is to explore and grow in order to expand all avenues of learning. This allows me to learn about subjects that may not necessarily be deemed “useful” (like the class “Topics in Opera” that I took first semester for example) but are interesting to take simply for the pursuit of knowledge in and of itself. The holistic approach to education can be a great way to develop interests in lots of areas in order to create a well-rounded, knowledgeable person.

Despite the many benefits of a liberal arts education, people still question the usefulness of these degrees versus technical degrees. In the article, “Is the Four-Year, Liberal-Arts Education Model Dead?” Betty Krump, the executive director of the American Technical Education Association argues, “I think our society has figured out that technical education is the key to our future success, and that someone with a two-year associate degree or technical diploma will make more money entering the workforce than a person with a bachelor’s degree” (Reutman). It is precisely these ideas that are sweeping and taking root in society, swaying people to believe that a liberal arts education is worthless based on the amount of monetary value after graduation. There is no factual base for this statement included in the article, which is problematic. The lack of statistics or numerical salary values detracts from the credibility of the quote. This quote is contradicted by the article “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees” by Elizabeth Segran. The idea the title suggests is not surprising considering that technical degrees are much more common compared to the more elusive liberal arts degree. According to the author of the article, “liberal arts training- with its emphasis on creativity and critical thinking- is vital to the success of business” (Segran). The reason for this lies in the liberal arts’ multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach to education. The article gives multiple examples of liberal arts graduates that have ended up as successful business moguls who vouch for the education they received and how it has helped them in the technical world. Interestingly enough, the “ambiguity” of liberal arts education that people condemn is actually a strong suit in the technical world. It provides skills helpful for problem-solving and is one of the reasons CEOs are seeking employees with liberal arts degrees. Although liberal arts degrees are being sought out in the technical world, it is important to realize that the main focus of the liberal arts is not to craft its majors to earn large salaries. A much greater amount of value is placed on learning and development of skill sets. As stated in an article in The Washington Post, “Great and successful careers rarely end up having much connection to major. They do to intelligence, leadership, innovation, creativity, aptitude in assessing uncertainty, ability” (Strauss). Liberal arts institutions harness many valuable aspects of curriculum in order to provide a well-rounded education for their students.

The debate for and against the liberal arts is one that dominates modern times. Technical degrees are often seen as more practical and useful in the job market. Contrary to popular belief, liberal arts degrees are even more coveted in the technical world because of the highly applicable skills developed in such an education. Although liberal arts majors are still valuable in careers, that is not their only value. Liberal arts schools are academically challenging and bring out the best in students, while trying to instill an appreciation of knowledge for its own sake that students today often lack in their drive for monetary success. I have experienced firsthand the many benefits of a liberal arts college and wholeheartedly believe in the strengths of its students as opposed to other paths of education.

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