Over the last couple of weeks there have been several articles related to how people view Liberal Arts (LA) programs. For the most part, information related to these programs has been fraught with skepticism and concern. However, as more and more students seek education in the US, whether for boarding school or college, understanding the fundamental value of Liberal Arts is a must. And, while there is overwhelming evidence that a LA degree has significant value, there is more and more pressure, mostly from parents, on students to focus on professional degrees. The evidence exists, and here are a few examples:
1. Mark Parker, President and CEO of Nike: Pennsylvania State University B.S. Political Science
2. John Watson, Chairman and CEO of Chevron: UC Davis B.A. in Agricultural Economics
3. Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks: Northern Michigan State B.A. in Communications
4. Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company: Ithaca College B.S. Television and Radio
5. Ken Chenault, CEO American Express: Bowdoin College B.A. in History
6. Carly Fiorina, CEO Hewlett Packard: Stanford University B.A. in Medieval History
These are just a few examples of CEO’s who not only studied non-professional majors but also attended schools other than the Ivy League.
The most recent article Meet Parents Who Won’t Let Their Children Study Literature in the Washington Post highlights several issues. First, the explosion of students undertaking double majors – one to satisfy their parents and their own, has caused undo stress, not to mention the added cost of time and money, as students attempt to satisfy credit requirements to complete both degrees.
The second issue is a complete misunderstanding of the value of a LA degree. At the core of learning are three (3) critical skills students must master – Critical Thinking, Analytical Thinking, and Communication. These three are the underpinnings of future success which are developed in Liberal Arts Colleges (LAC) through the understanding and exploration of History, Math, Science, and Literature.
A second article That Useless Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket from Forbes describes how high tech companies now need more students able to write well-developed arguments from idea to concept. More importantly, companies are finding that students with LAC degrees make them stronger in all areas of the company, particularly in sales and marketing. It is LAC graduates who can distill the dreamland of coders to end-users, making sense of the software’s value and its uses to propel companies forward.
While I have distilled the two articles down to some simple concepts, they are worth a read to fully grasp the value of LA degrees. Here is something further to ponder – There are companies, which exist today that will not exist ten years from now because they have not adapted to new economic forces; there are jobs that do not exist today that will be prevalent in the future. Have a look at this article about some of the 162 Future Jobs that don’t currently exist.
What should students and parents do – Think more widely about what education means. Don’t discard something because it does not make sense. Investigate, research, and understand. Take some career and personality tests – Morrisby Careers Guidance or Do What You Are (a book) or MyVerse to understand your personality and possible attributed careers. And lastly, students should be thinking about these two most important questions – What change do you want to bring to the world you will inherit? What change do you want to bring to yourself to make that happen?