The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in the Career Planning Process
Dr. Patricia Chase
I recently received an e-mail from the mother of a high school senior who questioned the career value of a liberal arts education. This is a question that has become more common with the onset of state programs such as Career Pathways that have begun pointing students toward technical fields and specific career choices as early as junior high. My response to her was that now, more than ever, we should encourage our students to become educated in the liberal arts. There are, and will always be, plenty of careers waiting for people who are creative problem-solvers able to work with a wide variety of people.
Often career success requires creativity, thought, and a knowledge base that includes the understanding of history, society and different cultures. One must be able to think analytically, communicate effectively, deal with change, and develop innovative ways to find solutions to problems. In addition, technology and improved communication networks have brought the world closer together. In a single day we may fly cross-country for meetings, negotiate with people from different cultures, or communicate our understanding of foreign languages or economic systems.
Employers in both the public and private sectors need people who can think and adapt in accordance with the needs of a rapidly changing world. A liberal arts education encourages students to approach challenges creatively while preparing them to work in a variety of fields. A few years ago The Wall Street Journal reported that more top executives held degrees in liberal arts than in any other fields. It is clear that a liberal arts curriculum promotes the innovation, communication, cross-cultural understanding and analytical skills necessary for success in most any profession.
The purpose of a liberal arts education is not to train students to do a specific job or to do one particular thing; rather the focus of liberal arts is to prepare students to do anything and everything. This is what makes liberal arts graduates valuable to organizations and successful in post-graduate programs. Throughout their studies students will acquire a broad knowledge base that will serve them throughout their lives and in the real world. They will graduate with an understanding of a wide range of subjects, solid thinking, writing, reasoning, and analytical skills and, most importantly, a degree of self-understanding that could not have been achieved elsewhere.