With the cost of college skyrocketing and unemployment rates still dismal, the same question resonates on blogs, newspapers, and college campuses: Is a liberal arts education that doesn’t really prepare students for a specific job worth it?
The point of a college education — in an ideal world — is intellectual development. But let’s be honest, in reality, a college education is an investment, of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars at the most expensive universities, in the future. In the best of circumstances, the investment pays — and students are rewarded with good career opportunities, both after graduation and in the long-term.
Following this chain of logic, some argue that a system of vocational education is the best option because its sole purpose is to prepare students for jobs.
However, while vocational degrees prepare students for the future, liberal arts degrees do so better.
The most significant flaw of a vocational degree is that it is simply too limiting. It constricts young people to a single career from the day they enter college. Most people simply are not adequately equipped to choose a career path at 17, especially not an inflexible, lifelong career commitment.
But the merits of a liberal arts education do not simply rely on the fact that a vocational degree is the worse choice – there are compelling reasons to value a liberal arts degree for what it is.
The point of a liberal arts education is not to train historians, biologists, or economists, though it sometimes does. This education teaches students how to think. When students take physics classes alongside poetry classes, they are introduced to the various angles used to approach similar problems and given context that helps them approach challenges from beyond the limited perspective of their chosen vocation.
And when students solve problems, do labs, and write essays, they’re doing more than merely regurgitating subject-specific information. They’re learning how to think analytically and reason effectively. These skills are not subject specific – they can be used by an accountant, an administrator or a nurse alike.
And because these skills are important for most jobs and applicable to any career, they are reusable and transferable – not limiting students to a single field or career path throughout their lives. So even though a liberal arts degree might not provide a lawyer with the specific skills he needs for his job, it will give him skills that he can use when doing his job. In short, a liberal arts degree is an investment that pays no matter what path students choose in the future.
With a shift to vocational education, the U.S. would be producing college graduates who only know how to do their chosen jobs. The liberal arts education system, on the other hand, not only equips college graduates with skills that they can use regardless of their chosen fields; it also allows them flexibility in their career choices.
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