By Melissa Schill
Maybe your school has bigger labs. Maybe your school has more advanced technology available. Maybe your school has a D-1 football team. But does your school offer you a wide set of both hard and soft skills? Does your school curriculum revolve around the oldest and most respected method of education? Is your skill committed to building the whole person?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been indoctrinated by my own liberal arts college on the merits of such schools. Maybe it’s because I’m a humanities major and therefore more directly benefit from the diverse subject studies. Maybe it’s because I’m still a student and have yet to experience first-hand the effect college has on life post-grad. Maybe it’s these things that make me the liberal arts cheerleader that I am. So let’s not look at my experience, but instead turn to the facts. What is it that objectively makes a liberal arts education superior to a general arts education?
Though a “liberal arts college” has a wide variety of interpretations, the definition that I am referring to is the one the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) uses: “a particular institutional type – often small, often residential – that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, while grounding its curriculum in the liberal arts disciplines.” The liberal arts disciplines include the humanities, sciences, arts, and social sciences.
In a study conducted for the AACU, 80 percent of employers surveyed agreed that “regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.” 74 percent of employers “would recommend [a liberal arts education] to a young person they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.”
Value of liberal arts education
The skills that a liberal arts education is known for instilling in students are widely sought after in the workplace. In the same study for the AACU, “The majority of employers agree that having both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge is most important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success.” Within that “broad range of skills and knowledge” were critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
It is these skills that advance liberal arts students economically, another indicator of the value a liberal arts education offers. More than 60 percent of liberal arts college graduates “end up in the top two quintiles of income post-grad even if they started off in the bottom three quintiles,” according to a recent study done by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
A liberal arts experience
I come from a long line of liberal arts majors. Both of my parents graduated from Wheaton College in 1993. My father, Kelvin Schill, was a double major in math and Bible and Theology. Though he began his career as an actuary, he transitioned into leadership and quickly moved up the corporate ladder. He attributes some of his success to the skills a liberal arts education equipped him with.
“There are skills that a liberal arts education really developed, especially from a leadership and communication standpoint,” Schill said. He explained that these communication and leadership skills set him apart from his coworkers: “People that are truly successful in the workplace are people that can create bridges.”
Now that I’ve presented objective research, I cannot help but share a piece of my experience as a liberal arts student at Wheaton College. As a student hoping to enter the journalism world, exposure to subjects beyond writing, media, and communication classes has been immensely beneficial. Whether interviewing a politician or a geology professor, I can have an educated conversation because I possess a basic knowledge of their fields from classes that I took as part of my liberal arts curriculum.
It is the soft skills that are even more beneficial. In interviews where I don’t have a lot of expertise on the subject at hand, or I’m dealing with someone who is difficult to interact with, my liberal arts education has taught me skills such as flexibility and critical thinking that aid me in these situations. I am learning the skills necessary to make good connections with people and communicate well.
Have I still not persuaded you? Find the three most successful people you know and ask if they graduated from a liberal arts college. Chances are, they did. The skills that they earned from their liberal arts classes set them on the path to success.