The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

MLK

Education is the building block which allows us humans to interact in the simple and complex manners in which we do. A vital element to a person’s success in the United States’ capitalist economy today is their level of education. A highly debated concept is whether it is better to receive an education from a vocational college, focusing education in a single field, or to attend a liberal arts college and receive a well-rounded education which develops people to their fullest potential. After learning about the benefits and costs of vocational and liberal arts educations, I think that it is much more beneficial for people to invest the time and money in order to attend and graduate from a liberal arts college because it fully prepares the individual for real world issues in a way that the study of a single field cannot.

The benefits of receiving a liberal arts degree are vast; they equip individuals with skills which many employers prefer workers to possess such as communication, problem solving, and creative thinking. John Ebersole’s article discusses the results of a survey taken by business leaders. The survey revealed that, “an overwhelming 73 percent said that being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry expertise because job-specific skills can be learned at work” (Ebersole, 2013). Based on Ebersole’s research, business leaders prefer to hire graduates who have strongly developed creative thinking ability instead of specialized training due to the fact that the first helps people deal with issues that they face on the job. People without the skills provided by a liberal arts education are more likely to struggle when faced with complications because of a lack of communication and problem solving skill. These are both vital characteristics of successful employees. Marvin Krislov wrote an article that supports the idea that liberal arts educations are more valuable than ever in today’s market economy. In his article he discusses the importance of gaining the well-rounded education to help people think creatively, instead of focusing on a single field because, “Studies show that current college graduates will likely change careers 15 times in their lives” (Krislov, 2013). Krislov’s statement supports the idea that a liberal arts education is in fact much more beneficial for the individual because it helps provide people with the necessary skills to succeed in multiple different work places instead of only one. This is an important skill to have because a student’s horizontal mobility in the job market is limited if they receive a degree in a specific field from a vocational college. There may be a shortage in demand for their job by the time they graduate, leaving them few alternatives to pursue due to a lack of a broader education. These are both very strong pieces of evidence which support the fact that a liberal arts education properly prepares individuals to go straight into the work force and be successful.

Critics have argued that liberal arts degrees fail to impress employers, resulting in a lack of demand for graduates who have liberal arts degrees. Quentin Fottrell’s article, “(More) Bad News for Liberal Arts Majors” is about the disadvantages of getting a liberal arts degree. As evidence, he includes the survey results that revealed, “Nearly 50% of job seekers said they believe there are “no jobs” out there for those with a liberal arts degree” (Fottrell, 2014). The truthfulness of this survey is debatable and seems biased to say the least, but it also does not provide any factual evidence that this statement is true in practice. It is also unclear if this is referring to a degree received from a liberal arts college, or a degree specifically in liberal arts. Either way, Fottrell’s argument is very weak and opinion based, failing to prove that liberal arts degrees are not highly sought after by employers. He does not provide concrete evidence supporting the idea that liberal arts educations are less beneficial than a vocational education. Another source which belittles the benefits of a liberal arts degree is the article, “Liberal Arts Majors Are Screwed” written by Dan Schawbel. Schawbel argued liberal arts do educate individuals in fields he calls “soft skills” such as communication, team work, and attitude, but that these are not the type of attributes employers are pursuing in hiring new graduates. He provides the results of a study stating that, “only 2% of employers are actively recruiting liberal arts degree holders” (Schawbel, 2014). The validity of the study is questionable, and again it is not clear if Schawbel is referring to a degree from a liberal arts school or a liberal arts degree itself. The main point that Schawbel is trying to make in his article is liberal arts majors do not properly equip graduates with the skills needed to land a job in the US economy. Schawbel’s statistic conflicts with the evidence provided by Ebersole. I think this is because Schawbel’s sample does not sufficiently represent all employers. This leads me to conclude that liberal art educations are very beneficial, properly train students to possess the skill necessary to succeed in the work place, and are highly demanded by employers.

While some may criticize the relevance of a liberal arts education, it is an extremely rewarding and useful to obtain. It fully develops individuals in their communication and problem solving skills, and to be the best version of themselves. From my experience so far at Occidental, I can tell that taking a broad range of classes has made me very curious to learn more in different subjects in order to increase my knowledge on different topics. This has fueled my inner desire to accomplish more and become a more educated citizen so that I can have a positive effect on the world surrounding me. I can tell that after I receive my degree I will indeed be much more creative, better at communicating, and ready to deal with real world issues. I truly do believe attending a liberal arts college properly prepares individuals to succeed after graduating, and is a much better investment than attending and receiving a degree from a vocational college.

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