Why Study the Liberal Arts?

Judging the value of a liberal arts education, even with a purely economic calculus, shows it to be more relevant than ever before. It is no longer news that career trajectories are varied and multiple, that our professional pursuits have distinct chapters over the course of our lives.  Flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and strong communication skills (particularly writing) are at the core of a liberal arts education and critical to success today and in the future. It’s not surprising that a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that more than three-quarters of employers would recommend an education with this emphasis to a young person they know.

Clearly, all successful careers require critical thinking, teamwork, sensitivity to cultural, demographic, economic and societal differences and political perspectives. A liberal arts education provides this grounding. Most people will have six to 10 jobs during their careers, and liberal arts majors are the most adaptable to new circumstances. No one knows what the jobs of the future will be, but a liberal arts degree provides a great foundation for adjusting to new careers and further education. Currently, a third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees. For example, Leslie Moonves, who leads CBS, has a degree in Spanish from Bucknell University, and Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, majored in communication at Northern Michigan (he was also the first in his family to attend college).

In a country of polarized politics, a liberal education enables critical thinking and the capacity to put tough issues into a larger context. Such graduates will develop skills to help our country implement innovative solutions rather than simply conduct arguments. Our global society needs the grounding in ethical thinking and questioning that the liberal arts provide. Improving engineering fundamentals will accomplish little if our ethical foundations are eroding.