Proposing a Liberal Arts and Technical Education Armistice: Merging the Best Attributes of Two Education Models Helps Grads Find Employment

By Path, Bill | University Business, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Proposing a Liberal Arts and Technical Education Armistice: Merging the Best Attributes of Two Education Models Helps Grads Find Employment


Path, Bill, University Business


It may be time to rethink some of our established models of higher education. Let's consider two classic paradigms.

By most definitions, liberal arts education refers to those college studies related to areas such as literature, languages, philosophy, humanities, history, mathematics, psychology and science. These instructional elements are among the most time-honored part of a traditional college education.

The aim of these studies is to produce a virtuous, knowledgeable and articulate person--an individual able to assume an active role in civic life. A liberal arts education relies heavily on theoretical learning models and culminates in a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Career and technical education (CTE), on the other hand, references the type of hands-on training that prepares students for specific trades, careers or professions. The chief objective with this type of training is to equip students with a marketable set of skills and to make it easier for them to meet their employment goals. These students most often earn an associate of applied science degree.

Conflicting messages

The main challenge for liberal arts graduates is difficulty finding suitable employment after graduation. It's not uncommon for a liberal arts graduate to be engaged in an ongoing job search for many years. These graduates are frequently told they lack the requisite skill sets or experience for the jobs they seek. Consequently, they often settle for low-paying jobs that don't require a college degree or they enroll in graduate school in hopes of picking up some more marketable skills.

Yet the problem facing CTE graduates is exactly the opposite. They have little difficulty finding employment in their chosen field after graduation because many employers are eager to hire people with technical skills even when they have little or no experience. But when these CTE graduates want to advance their careers--and need a higher-level degree to do so--they are often shut out by the higher education system. They are told that the courses on their transcript are nontransferable, and they will have to essentially start their college education all over again. …

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