Harder to Defend
I have two Liberal Arts degrees. I earned a BA in English from the University of Utah and a Masters Degree in Library Science from Emporia State University. Both degrees were invaluable for my career as a Librarian. Though it was never my intention to find myself working in libraries, I found an unexpected home in them. If I had followed my childhood aspiration (professional athlete or musician aside) to teach, my advanced degree would have been in English or Education. Making lots of money was never my goal, though I would not have turned down a job that paid a fortune. Anyone who finds their passion knows that the money you make from it is always a bonus, never the reason.
I knew going in that a degree in any of the “liberal arts” was an investment in me, not my future wealth. It is the very reason I went to college, to make ME better. I am finding more and more that my motivation is not everyone else’s motivation and that the purpose of college is shifting. This has not been a sudden shift. In the The last 40 years, more and more degree programs are designed to prepare individuals for specific careers, rather than offering more broad experiences. Liberal Arts programs followed suit, with programs with more focused and specific outcomes. Unfortunately, Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies programs (while infinitely interesting) offer fewer career choices than more general degrees like History or Art.
I am a firm believer in the ‘old school’ university mentality-Learning for the sake of learning. Logic, rhetoric, writing and critical thinking skills have aided my life much more than any course in business or computer science did. Of course, the things that interested me were logic, rhetoric and critical thinking. Regardless of my interests or wishes, modern higher education must fulfill a different role than it has in the past.
It is harder for me to defend someone choosing liberal arts programs when they cannot easily prepare people for careers in science or technology, economics or engineering While learning how to think, write and communicate are skills every professional needs, those skills cannot be the entire focus of the university experience. There will always be people (thankfully) who have passion for art, music, languages, history and those people should continue to pursue degrees than cater to their desires and skills. Universities should continue to provide opportunities for all students- require all students that obtain any degree to understand the value of writing and critical thinking- allow the shift towards skills training to continue.
Most importantly, universities should expose students to all sorts of ideas, even ones they may not agree with. Being able to look at an idea, study it, learn and explore it without necessarily adopting it is a skill that every needs.