Why do we spend money to go to college

Why do we spend money to go to college?  Every year, thousands of students spend millions of dollars in order to attend hundreds of state and private colleges and universities.  We are told that we “have to go in order to get a good job in the future”.  But this writer believes that it is more than that.

  To go to college implies more than the preparation to get a good job in the future, it is to achieve a more well-rounded education than high school can provide, and to become a better rounded person than high school can create.  A well-rounded education is one where a person is educated in more than the basics.  In other words, they know more than how to read and write, they know how to think and how to apply learning to real life experiences.  Liberal education is a better educational choice for people because it creates citizens that are more critical thinkers and better rounded as a whole.  Liberal arts education stresses writing and speaking skills as very important.

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  It also stresses inquiry, critical thinking and teamwork as important.  These five skills–writing, speaking, inquiry, critical thinking and teamwork, are all skills that are desirous to potential employers.  Liberal arts education, then, is the best overall education choice for students entering college.  The main sources for this idea come from a report that was conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.   Their extensive survey of employers, students and professors contributed heavily to what is desirous in potential employees.  On the other side of the argument is the concept that a liberal arts education does not provide enough grounding in the practical aspects of a job, and that only a concentrated major like business can provide all of what is needed for a person to be successful in both life and in the world of work.

The methodology behind this research is the fact that employers regularly seek out employees that can “think outside the box” and can apply what they know to different circumstances.  Those with a liberal education are better equipped to think outside the box and think critically in all situations.  Employees that are narrowly educated tend to think within the confines of their education.  By thinking critically, and with a liberal education, employees are better equipped to deal with the vagaries of a job that is dynamic and elastic.Before we discuss why a liberal arts education is better for a person than another type of education, we must first define what a liberal arts education is.  According to William Cronon, a liberal arts education does not mean that a person is indoctrinated with liberal beliefs.  The “liberal arts” have been around since the Renaissance, and consisted of seven subjects—grammar, logic, rhetoric arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (Cronon, 1998).  These subjects are what created what were known as “free men”.

  Granted, the idea of a liberal arts education was reserved for the very wealthy, aristocratic men of a family, but it was the first step in the process of creating a society of well rounded men (Ibid).  The liberal arts education was also desired because it was designed to liberate men and be “an education that stands in the service of human freedom (Ibid).”  While we have defined what a liberal education is and were, and what its goals were, we need to define what a liberal is and what its goals are today.

  According to Cronon, he cites one institution which states as its “Objects of a Liberal Education” as having competencies in several areas including communication, nodes of thought, knowledge of basic cultural heritage and knowledge of at least one subject area (Ibid).  Business education, on the other hand, focuses a person’s intensity on simply working within the confines of business.  Some would say that this better trains people for the complexities of the business world.  A liberal education is a more generalized education, with no focus on the business world, instead the focus is on the arts and sciences.The next question we need to answer is how exactly can we identify a liberally educated person?  Cronon puts forward ten markers of how we can identify a liberally educated person.

  They are “the listen and they hear, they read and they understand, they can talk with anyone, they can write clearly and persuasively and movingly, they can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems, they respect rigor not so much for its own sake but as a way of seeking truth, they practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism, they understand how to get things done in the world, they nurture and empower the people around them, and finally, they follow E.M. Forster’s injunction from Howard’s End:  ‘Only connect…’(Ibid)”.

  He believes schools should be measured on how well they train students to aspire to these ten qualities and “how well we succeed in fostering…these qualities. (Ibid).”What is it about a liberal arts education that makes it a more desirous choice for the college student?  We should first look at what faculties say about fostering the liberal education ideals.  According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Faculty places a large degree of importance (more than fifty percent) on the intellectual and practical skills of fostering written and oral communication, inquiry, critical, and creative thinking, information literacy, teamwork, and integration of learning (2005).  They also place a high degree (more than fifty percent) on the individual and social responsibility questions of civic responsibility and engagement, and ethical reasoning (Ibid).  They place a moderately high importance (between forty and fifty percent) on intercultural knowledge and actions (Ibid).  This researcher selected forty and fifty percent because it represents a halfway point as well as a point of high value.

When we look at what students gain from a liberal arts education, we look at the same report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and see that students perceived significant gains (higher than fifty percent) in acquiring a broad general education (Ibid).  They also perceived significant gains in the intellectual and practical skills of written and oral communication, inquiry, critical and creative thinking, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork, and integration of learning (Ibid).  They also perceived significant gains in ethical reasoning, intercultural knowledge and actions, and propensity for lifelong learning.  They also perceived gains of between twenty and forty percent in civic responsibility and engagement.

  Additionally, we see that these students are studying things like science, social science, mathematics, humanities and the arts.  Some would say that these are professions that do not lend themselves very easily to the vagaries of the rigid world of business, but instead to the flexible and nebulous world of academia.Liberal Arts education also has garnered support from outside the school and into the world of work.  Business and government leaders were quoted in the aforementioned report, saying that in terms of knowledge, “executives will need a broad understanding of other cultures, other languages, history, science, and the arts.

  If they are to successfully navigate a rapidly changing future business environment (Ibid).”  Business education as a direct major does not provide the all the necessary background that employers are looking for.  Business requires empowered employees, those with critical thinking and great communication skills, and a liberal arts education provides all of these.  While business education has a place in educating people for the business world, men and women with a liberal education generally have more “tools” with which to operate within the world of business.

  Some other insights from the business and government community includes the fact that quantitative literacy is valued—“[b]usiness wants new employees from the educational system who can do mathematics accurately, within benchmark time periods, and frequently with the use of a calculator….In the world of work it means dealing with real, unpredictable and unorganized situations where the first task is to organize the information and only then calculate to find and answer (Ibid).”  In terms of information literacy, the business and government community wants workers that can “identify, assimilate, and integrate information from diverse sources (Ibid).”  They also value teamwork.  Finally, integration of learning is desired as individual skills cannot be boxed in separately.  In terms of individual and social responsibility, leaders say that the “study of liberal arts can lead to moral understandings that are invaluable to success in whatever one attempts in life (Ibid).

”  Intercultural knowledge and actions are valued as well as a propensity for lifelong learning (Ibid).  Employers desire employees that can see things from different points of view, and work collaboratively with employees from differing backgrounds in order to achieve common goals.  Additionally, employers want employees that keep pace with current developments in the field and have fundamental skills and “an ability to continue learning.”  Employees are needed that can “keep pace with rapid developments (Ibid)”What do all of these statistics tell us?  They tell us that the liberal arts are the best choice for someone both entering college and entering the world of work.  Employers readily seek what liberal arts majors have to offer.  One can see this by what employers have to say about liberal arts majors.

   The qualities that a liberal arts major embodies are ones that any potential employer would seek.  The ideals of exceptional communication skills and the skills of teamwork and constant pursuit of knowledge are “sellers” to potential employers.  William Cronon agrees, as what he says a liberal education embodies is the well-roundedness of the person, and a well-rounded college student is a well-rounded employer.  A liberal education provides an employer with a person who is more intuitive and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects.  In business especially, this is especially desirous.

  Conducting business during these times of international business integration means that employers need employees that understand the subtleties of culture and society as it exists in the modern world.  Liberal arts majors are such that they have the education and the wherewithal to understand these issues and use them to integrate with other cultures and societies.Business and technical education, some would say, lead to a more direct and usable skill set.  Liberal education is not that way.  It focuses on a broad array of skills that any employer should desire, but some may find impractical.

  Some feel as though a liberal arts major brings deficiencies to the table that a business and technical educated person does not.  A liberal arts major, they say, needs to be trained to perform a job that a technical person can perform right out of school.  Business majors are also better equipped, some would say, to deal with the faster paced world of business than a liberal arts major.  All of these facts have to be taken into consideration when making the monumental decision as to what to pursue in college.  While many would argue that business and technical education is the way in which to best educate the future generations, it can also be argued that the best course of action is to create a well rounded citizen that can think critically and outside the proverbial box.  The best way to achieve this is with a balanced liberal education.College, and more specifically a liberal arts education provides the world with students who are not only ready to work, but are ready to work proficiently and exceptionally within the society in which we move.

  Business and technical education does not give the world a well-rounded student, ready to function in society.  Yes, business and technical majors can provide their services within the society, but are extremely limited.  If you were to talk to one hundred college graduates, you would find that most had a liberal arts education.  While most may not be working within their majors, they are working in a field that utilizes their unique talents and abilities.  Most work as managers or teachers or government workers.  Some work in retail or other service occupations.

  An employer can find any liberal arts major to be a flexible addition to any team and a wonderful team player.Leo Strauss stated that “[l]iberal education is education in culture or toward culture (Strauss, 1959).”  He defines culture as Strauss defines it is the cultivation of the mind, which is the goal of all education.

  While we can see that by the very subject matter that is taught, this is so, liberal education is more than that.  It is a way of preparing young people for a changing future, one that will need them to have skills in written and oral communication, inquiry, critical, and creative thinking, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork and integration of learning.  These concepts cannot be taught in an expressly business environment and neither can it be taught in a technical one.  The combination of subjects taught in the liberal arts arena is one that rounds out a person, shaving off the rough edges and creating diamonds out of rough.  In education, Strauss points out; it is difficult to find the true diamonds, the sages of our time.

  Even Socrates, a man nearly everyone considers a genius thinker, read other people whom he thought were wiser than he (Ibid).  Liberal education, he says, is what will continue to preserve our democracy.  As long as people continue to pursue learning of letters, as he puts it, democracy can and will be preserved.

   Since the liberal arts acculturate our people, our democracy can continue its mass culture, being ruled by the cultural elites (Ibid).  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Leaders must rise to the top, and a solid liberal arts education does this.  It creates leaders from high school graduates.

  It nurtures talent and secures it for the future.  Strauss is indeed correct, and we must continue to learn from his words.A liberal arts education is the best overall choice for someone entering college.  It provides a more well rounded education, a better value, and gives a student more flexibility than being tightly roped into a specific school of thought.  Many liberal arts majors do not work in their majors, but instead have pursued other choices that have made them happy.  By having the flexibility that a liberal arts education offers, a student can go much further than the average student.  They will achieve greater heights and have more marketable skills that a potential employer will seek.

  Achieving a liberal arts education should be the priority of every student entering college today, given the presented evidence.  It should be required that a certain number of credits be from the liberal arts, as that helps the student become a more well-rounded individual.  Colleges should definitely help more students achieve a liberal arts education, as they will become better employees and better people.

Author: Norma Thompson


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