The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in Today’s Job Market : Under30CEO The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in Today’s Job Market : Under30CEO
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The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in Today’s Job Market

| November 5, 2012 | 2 Comments

The Great Recession of the last four years has led many students, parents, and pundits to question the value of a college education. How will paying, at times exorbitant, tuition costs possibly benefit our next generation of leaders?

It’s a fair question, as prices on nearly all goods and services rise and incomes, at best, maintain. Well-known college dropouts, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as books such as Academically Adrift, also cast doubt on how much success is shaped by a university experience.

But reports of the imminent demise of a college education are grossly overstated.  Not only are baccalaureate degrees worthwhile, but even the most questioned of them all – liberal arts degrees – are highly beneficial to employers. Employers should not only consider liberal arts graduates, they should seek them out.

Paths to Success through the Liberal Arts

While many vocational training programs do an incredible job of preparing graduates for a particular field or career, a liberal arts education creates lifelong learners. The mission of a liberal arts education is to “liberate” the mind through the study of the arts and sciences. This allows students to excel in critical thinking, interdisciplinary and integrative approaches to problem-solving, team-building, and management skills.

Practically speaking, it would be very difficult for a company to train for the jobs they’ll have in a few years because those jobs might not even exist yet. However, employees can learn essential skills that allow them to adapt quickly as knowledge expands and the world changes. Liberal arts majors are well equipped to do that.

Professional Advantages

Success in the workforce requires the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, integrate knowledge, and relate to our global economy. These are the core skills taught through a liberal arts education – and they’re necessary for each and every company to have.

Critical thinking is essential to efficiently solve problems on both a personal and professional level. Analyzing data and predicting outcomes are keys to success in business, marketing, and public relations.

Effective communication in management and client relationships is vital. If your employees or clients misunderstand your expectations or promises of service, your credibility and reliability can quickly plummet.

Integration of knowledge allows you to focus on all perspectives of an issue and arrive at a sound solution. You limit yourself, and your business, if you can only succeed within a narrow set of skills.Global awareness is critical in our world economy. Relations with the international business community depend on an understanding of differences in cultures, customs, languages, and tradition. It is no longer a possibility to be an isolationist in an interconnected world.

Economic Advantages

Even during a recession, the advantages of a college education are quite clear in terms of income potential. We may debate the merits of higher education in the business world, but what we’re willing to shell out for that education speaks volumes.

College graduates are employed at higher rates than those who have only a high school diploma. In addition, the underemployment rate for college graduates is significantly lower than the rate for those who did not complete at least a bachelor’s degree.

Graduation from a college or university shows an individual’s persistence. Employers look for dedication and focus when considering employment.

A liberal arts education’s goals correspond directly to success in a number of career paths, including marketing, journalism, international business, government service, law, education, and even medicine.

Graduates with a variety of majors, based on a liberal arts core, succeed as CEOs and business leaders. Many people might be surprised to learn that Steve Forbes was an American history major, or that Michael Eisner studied English and theater. Passion and success in business are not limited only to business majors. For every business leader who did not complete a higher education degree, you can find several who did – and are taking their companies in new directions.

The lifelong learning skills honed by a liberal arts education empower graduates to pursue a variety of careers and interests. The pursuit of higher education is attractive to employers and crafts the analytical mind. For every Bill Gates, there’s a Steve Forbes – and companies are hurting themselves by not taking a second look at their liberal arts applicants.

Dr. George B. Forsythe, President of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, has devoted his professional life to the fields of education and leadership training. A retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, he spent much of his 35 years of commissioned service at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, serving as a Professor, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and, finally, Vice Dean for Education for nine years. He came to Westminster as Dean of Faculty in 2005 and was appointed its 20th President in 2008. During his presidency, this private undergraduate liberal arts college has been transformed into a global leadership community nationally ranked for its diversity.

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  • Jeremy

    I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with Dr. Forsythe in this case. Steve Forbes and Michael Eisner may have liberal arts degrees but they graduated college in an era where having a college degree was enough to get your foot in the door in corporate America and companies weren’t so hasty to throw you out. Most employers are no longer willing to train a history, psychology, or other liberal arts major to do anything beyond a sales role.

    However, as he mentioned, having a degree in any major is certainly better than not having a degree at all. I would just caution those that are insistent on liberal arts majors go to schools that will not put them tens of thousands of dollars in debt after four years because most of the classes that you study will be not marketable skills to get a job paying much more than $30k straight out of undergrad.

  • Adam

    “Most employers are no longer willing to train … other liberal arts major[s] to do anything beyond a sales role” is not only a sweeping generalization, but an inaccurate one (as is the following paragraph). The difference is not a liberal arts education, but rather fake majors. If people have fake majors, at a state school or liberal arts college, they will face the plight you highlighted. However, if they major in something demanded by society, they’ll be fine if they are a decent candidate.

    I’m a computer science and math major at a liberal arts school, and for the past two summers I’ve worked for NSF funded internships at research universities. One of the professors I worked under also attended a liberal arts school not too long ago, and then earned his PhD in Computer Science from University of Washington. Not too shabby, eh?

    I will say, I think there are definitely both advantages and disadvantages to the liberal arts perspective. The advantages are the inter-connectivity of ideas, breadth of disciplines, and a nurturing student/faculty relationship. I can’t stress enough how the relationship between student and teacher is so much more valuable. However, the disadvantages would be the over-stressing of breadth requirements (at my school this is a tad excessive, which just removes time from the major) and the lack of a big-school “rigor” to the courses. This can provide minor setbacks, but any level of competence and determination can overcome this.