The Liberal Art education, which is usually offered in the small colleges in the United States, offers a broad education of humanities and sciences to undergraduate students. The Liberal Art colleges usually teach students in close communities of small numbers of students, residential settings, and small classes taught by tenured professors. Such colleges focus far less on vocational and professional training on specified majors for students than other institutions of higher education (Ferral, 13). The debate between Liberal Art education and vocational education keeps going from the ancient age up to the perplex world today of globalization of technological advancement. Therefore, multiple new perspectives according to the global economy today enter the discourse of the pursuit of higher education today, emphasizing the capability of the graduates joining the global economic labor force. Despite the graduates’ difficulties in searching for jobs that others proclaim, Liberal Art education still enlighten students and prepares for their future in the rapidly changing modern world.
Liberal Art education better guides students to derive creativity and critical thinking skills, which is essential elements required to take leadership in crucial positions of the global economy today. Many successful figures in entrepreneurship today and I disagree with Gerber’s assumption on the outcome of higher education. Many CEOs of technology companies graduated from Liberal Art education and highly value it. Steve Jobs highlighted the value of Liberal Arts in the spirit of Apple, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough, It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” Jobs’ words show that technology or entrepreneurship alone cannot yield the innovative achievement of Apple Inc. The spirit of Liberal Art makes Apple successful in the rapidly changing world of technology. Steve Yi, the CEO of MediaAlpha and Danielle Sheer, the CEO of Carbonite also experienced Liberal Art education. Both of them emphasized that the contents of humanities, philosophy and cultural studies they have studied in colleges help them succeeding in business. Liberal Art education enables them to think creatively and take multiple perspectives of views (Segran). The Liberal Art experiences prepare students for leadership in the new global economy instead of merely focus on vocational training or instructions on one specific field.
Criticizers of Liberal Art educations overly emphasize the unemployment and debt issues of college graduates, especially those from Liberal Art colleges, and question the value of bachelor degrees. Scott Gerber takes such approach while criticizing Liberal Art colleges in America for not guaranteeing their graduate better employment and income in his article on The Atlantis. He blames the colleges without entrepreneur department for failing to prepare the students ready for the new global economy and putting students in debt. He praises those institutions which focus more on entrepreneur education rather than humanities because he believes that entrepreneur education better trains students to fit into the economy today. His argument fails to convince me. He takes the assumption that specified entrepreneur education better prepares students to become entrepreneurs and succeed in the economy today. However, variant cases of successful CEOs graduating from Liberal Art colleges prove that Liberal Art education well prepare students for today’s economy.
Some of those who held position against Liberal Art education recommend science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM in short, as a better alternative of education because of better guarantee of job opportunities and possibly higher income. They argue that young adults should be looking for the education that brings them the high-paying jobs. Steve Tobak even portrays Liberal Art education as evil for the lower income or unemployment issue of the graduates, and informs that professional education is realistic and beneficial. He blames Liberal Art education for being too ideal, or even utopian (Tobak). G. W. Thielman takes another approach. He praises STEM education for better employment outcome and demonstrates STEM education have more advantage than Liberal Art education in multiple aspects of consideration through comparison. Therefore, Liberal Art education, in their opinion, become outmoded, unfit to time and fails to STEM education. Thielman believes that STEM students also have the abilities in humanities while they excel in sciences. The Liberal Art education in his view fail to educate students in both sciences and humanities because the focus on classical text fails to provide critical thinking skills (Thielman).
As a students of a Liberal Art college who has experienced education in both the Chinese and American system, I praise my Liberal Art experience at Occidental College in comparison to other alternatives of education. Students in Chinese education system focus on the preparation for the college entrance exam since high school. They have to choose between Liberal Art or STEM at the beginning of high school because the exam subjects differ for each route and they need to declare their major while they are admitted into a college. Taking my class in middle school as a sample, only a few students end up choosing the Liberal Art route whether in China or abroad. Being the very distinct student who had chosen the Liberal Art approach in America, my personal experience at Occidental College makes me reconsider many different phenomena I faced in both cultures critically. I not only faced the challenge of a heavy workload of academic reading and writing in a second language, but also learnt to adopts different perspectives of thinking from different contexts which are closely related to the globalizing and multicultural world today. I feel distinguished and unique from other students of STEM major after one semester at a Liberal Art college.
Despite the challenges from employment and income issue and competition from STEM education, Liberal Art education still prepares students with critical thinking, creativity and curiosity for the perplexing world of globalization and technological advancement. Technological advancement now is taking over many professions in the STEM field, so the vocational training in one single field is not a safe choice today. The Liberal Art spirit is not only needed in the technology companies, but is also required facing the advancing world today.
Gerber, Scott. 2012. “How Liberal Arts Colleges are Failing America.” The Atlantic. Sept 24.
Sergan, Elizabeth. 2014. “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degree.” Fast Company. August 28
Tobak, Steve. 2015 “The Evils of a Liberal Arts Education.” FOX Business. Nov 5.
Thielman, G.W. 2015. “The Liberal Arts are Dead; Long Live STEM.” The Federalist. June 2.