The ongoing debate between a liberal arts college education and a vocational, specialized approach to college education has become quite controversial. The liberal arts education has faced a massive decline in the percentage of enrollment. According to Hersh (2010), “A hundred years ago, liberal arts colleges represented the leading edge of educational quality; 70 percent of college students attended such colleges. That figure is now below 5 percent” (p. 16). A significant argument of the liberal arts education is whether the development of overall knowledge is more beneficial than an education focused only on STEM. In my opinion, the critical thinking and writing skills obtained from a liberal arts education prepare students for the labor market more so than a STEM education.
STEM education stands for education in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There is a nationwide appeal to entering this field and the primary factor is the quantity of economic success for those that take this route. In Ebersole’s 2013 article he states, “The other survey announced this week, the annual PayScale College Salary Report, was based on data gathered from more than 1.4 million college graduates and it identified the mid-career median salaries for individuals who had earned various types of degrees… Not surprisingly, degrees in STEM fields were listed among the top ten majors by salary potential.” However, finding a job in the market for STEM are difficult to come by. The appeal for a high salary in the STEM field is clear, but guarantee of jobs in this field is not always perfect.
A profession in the fields that use STEM has shown to have higher average salaries. Additionally, these jobs have not always been high in volume, and recently STEM jobs have been booming. However, Rich Bellis wrote in a 2015 article that, “As the New Yorker columnist John Cassidy recently pointed out, ‘During the dot-com era, enrollment in computer-science and information-technology programs rose sharply. After the bursting of the stock-market bubble, many of these graduates couldn’t find work.’” The problem with a STEM only education is that it can be tough to find a job in another field if one is unsuccessful in finding work. A liberal arts education can offer many different skills and benefits that do not force one occupational route.
The development of critical thinking and overall knowledge are vital factors that the student benefits from in a liberal arts education. Tuition prices have skyrocketed over the last several years and have resulted in more students reconsidering whether it is worth it to attend a liberal arts college for its value. I am positive that the answer to this question is yes because of the lifetime benefits one will have. A college education provides an enormous amount of preparation to the challenges that will be faced in all kinds of occupations. This preparation includes steady practice of reading and writing skills, while also being challenged to think critically in a variety of subjects. According to Mclaughlin (2016), “The association’s study also found that by the peak earnings years (ages 56 to 60), liberal-arts graduates have higher earnings on average than people who pursued more narrowly defined areas of study.” A college education strongly emphasizes this concept of practice every day to students in all types of subjects for the purpose of developing a critical thinking skill set in a specialized field of work. Every profession requires a certain level of practice within the area, which is why a major principle of schooling is to learn from academically rigorous practice. Critical thinking skills help students transform into leaders by developing the skills necessary to be a successful decision-maker.
The experience of a liberal arts education is incomparable by the jobs or other pursuits a high school student could receive after they graduate. Students are launched into a brand new environment with many unfamiliar people when college begins. Liberal arts colleges give students the opportunity to really delve into their favorite subjects, while also developing a greater general knowledge in other important areas of study. A liberal arts education is utilized to succeed throughout a lifetime and this success not only involves the classes, reading, or writing that is done, but also the experiences, relationships, and lessons that are learned built by living in a tight-knit community.