Are Liberal Arts Dead? Far from It. in Fact, Liberal Arts Grads Are in High Demand in the Corporate World

Article excerpt

When Michelle Schuh graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 1997, she had no idea what she wanted to do. As an American studies major, she had a broad background in culture and history. At first, she worked as a substitute teacher, but it wasn't until she moved to San Francisco and started a job as a sales assistant at Rolling Stone that she found a job that matched her talents and interest. "With a liberal arts degree, you really learn how to write and communicate," says Schuh. "We had so many open discussions at college that I feel I can talk to people about anything." And that talent is key in the world of sales. After working at Rolling Stone for one and a half years, Schuh stepped up into a position as a media planner at McCann-Erickson, a major advertising agency in San Francisco.

In charge of clients such as Microsoft and SuperCuts hair salons, Schuh coordinates how products and services are promoted to the appropriate, targeted audience. "I have to know my demographics," explains Schuh, who purchases magazine ad space and radio spots, and plans corporate sponsorships of events, such as concerts and NASCAR races. "A lot of my studies were about how and why people behave, and that's essential to my job today."

Schuh is like many liberal arts graduates who are finding that their ability for critical thinking, communication skills, and broad base of knowledge are of value in the business world. But many high school students--and their parents--have a misconception that liberal arts will not equip them with marketable skills, such as computer programming and accounting. The numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics confirm an overall downturn for liberal arts--compared to 1970, degrees earned in English and literature have dropped by about 13,000; degrees in foreign languages are down by 6,000, and math degrees are off by about 12,000. Yet degrees in business and computer science have skyrocketed

As a leader of an organization of 110 respected liberal arts colleges, I want students--and their parents--to know that the liberal arts are thriving, and that this type of education is more important than ever in these troubled times. A quick scan of the headlines reveals the array of complex issues that we all need to understand, including international relations, religion, civil liberties, cloning, technology, business ethics, and global warming. The best education for an unpredictable future provides the capacity and the tools to gather, interpret, challenge, and create knowledge; to combine ideas in new ways; and to communicate effectively. The best education creates the foundation for a life of continuous learning, of honor and meaning, and engagement and service.

A tall order? Yes. But that's exactly what liberal arts can provide a student. This type of education is called liberal arts, because it liberates the mind. The "liberal" comes from the Latin, liber, meaning free--free from ignorance and intolerance and cultural isolation.

What Are the Liberal Arts?

The term liberal arts does not refer to politics (as in liberal or conservative), and the "arts" part doesn't mean artistic. Today's liberal arts curriculum ranges from the social sciences (anthropology, economics, psychology, sociology) to the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, physics), to the humanities (English, history, philosophy, classics, foreign languages, mathematics), as well as music and art. Although every student does not pursue all of these areas, a typical core curriculum reflects the attitude that a well-educated person should be base of knowledge.

This core curriculum equips students with the indispensable tools of intellectual discourse and discovery--the ability to read and think critically, to reason quantitatively, and to write clearly and precisely. Grounding in the liberal arts offers a window on history, culture, and human beings, on methods of intellectual inquiry, that transcends any particular subject, problem, moment in time, or job. …