In Defense of the Liberal Arts Education

SusanOp Ed36 Comments

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Okay, guys. We’re in the middle of a war. No, not the war on terrorism. A media war. No, not the fake conspiracy against Ron Paul. A media war against the liberal arts.

I know what you’re thinking: a media war? Really?

But yes. Really. Especially in the wake of the housing bubble burst, especially in the middle of a recession, especially as Ron Paul spouts off about Big Government subsidizing education and driving costs up, the news stories about higher education are alarmist and overwhelmingly negative. Reuters asks, “Is College Worth it?” MSN takes it a step further with “Is a College Degree Worthless?” U.S. News says that “College Tuition Growth Rate Is Biggest Bubble of Them All.” The message is clear: College tuition is rising, it is rising too quickly, and the degree ultimately does not justify the spending.

The articles follow a typical pattern: talk about the rising cost in tuition, speculate about blame, suggest that students go to a 2-year college or an in-state public university to offset cost. I’m not going to disagree with any of that: tuition costs are rising at a higher rate than inflation (the numbers are somewhat skewed because of funding cuts for public universities, and the increase in for-profit schools, and the higher demand for college), and there are other options available to keep costs low. What I am going to argue is that there is value in a residential liberal arts education that goes beyond what most of these articles discuss.

The 7 liberal arts

Marten de Vos' painting of the seven liberal arts. From Wikimedia Commons.

First: Money. Residential liberal arts educations cost an average of $38,590 from 2011-2012, while a 2-year public college tuition is a little under $10,370, and a public 4-year averages $17,130. $40,000 per year for college seems outlandish, and the sticker shock keeps many away. However, private colleges tend to have higher endowments and are more able to give students financial aid; the actual cost is more like $23,060 for a private school, $11,380 for a public, 4-year university, and $6600 for a 2-year college.

Here’s another thing to consider: at your average private college, 48.4% of students will graduate in 4 years. At your average public college, that number is 27.6%. An American Council on Education study from 2001 showed an average of 4.8 years for public university students, and 4.3 years for private university students. The highest cost colleges are much more likely to get people through the program in 4 years, which brings the overall cost down.

Another aspect that is not often considered when looking at tuition is the cost of life. As an undergraduate in a private, residential school, I took out loans for tuition but my on-campus job covered any other expenses. I did not go out to bars, or have to pay for parking, or use public transportation. My college was a world in and of itself, with campus parties and a comprehensive community within walking distance. Even when I lived “off-campus,” I was completely immersed in the world that was my college. In graduate school, at a public university, the feel was quite different. My tuition was covered, but I ended up taking out loans for life. Parking was hundreds of dollars per year, and the on-campus opportunities did not cover my social needs. This was probably exaggerated because of my own circumstances, but at the same time, residential programs are more comprehensive in nature; the upfront cost is high, but there is a lot of bang for that buck.

Second: Economic benefit. The Census Bureau recently looked at income levels; the economic benefit of a college education is quite clear:

According to the study, education levels had more effect on earnings over a 40-year span in the workforce than any other demographic factor such as race or gender. The estimated impact on annual earnings between a person with a professional degree versus one without a high school diploma was about $72,000 a year.

But how does this compare between the more costly residential liberal arts education and something more specialized? It is hard to put a number on the economic benefit, because liberal arts students pursue a wide variety of careers. However, from the start, it is clear that a specialized field has a better economic benefit. These benefits tend to even out over time, although not completely.

It isn’t as cut-and-dry as it seems. From the Annapolis Group:

Though small in number when compared to America’s large public universities, liberal arts college graduates are represented disproportionately among leaders in the arts, education, science and medicine, public service and business. A 1998 study found that even though only 3 percent of American college graduates were educated at a residential liberal arts college, alumni of these colleges accounted for:

  • 8 percent of Forbes magazine’s listing of the nation’s wealthiest CEOs in 1998
  • 8 percent of former Peace Corps volunteers
  • 19 percent of U.S. presidents
  • 23 percent of Pulitzer Prize winners in drama, 19 percent of the winners in history, 18 percent in poetry, 8 percent in biography, and 6 percent in fiction from 1960 to 1998
  • 9 percent of all Fulbright scholarship recipients and 24 percent of all Mellon fellowships in the humanities
  • 20 percent of Phi Beta Kappa inductions made between 1995 and 1997

The average salary of the average graduate of a residential liberal arts school is lower than your average salary of a graduate of a more career-focused school; the fact remains, though, that residential liberal arts colleges prepare their students in a different way than a research university, and there are economic benefits to this preparation.

Which brings me to my third, and what I consider to be the most important point: Education. And I don’t mean “quality of instruction,” I mean education. The difference between a 4-year, residential liberal arts college and a big research university is that a small liberal arts college strives to give depth of knowledge in a specialty, as well as breadth of knowledge about the world. A liberal arts education is not career training – it is life training. The focus of a liberal arts education is on critical thinking, and expanding the mind. A successful graduate of a liberal arts program will be at the beginning of a life of learning.

The Annapolis Group commissioned a study by the higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day. The study was based on 2700 phone interviews and looked at the lasting effects of college.

From the Annapolis Group website:

Among the study’s career-related findings:

  • Seventy-six percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job, compared to 66 percent who attended public flagship universities;
  • Eighty-nine percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities;
  • Sixty percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt “better prepared” for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities.
  • Liberal arts college graduates are more likely to graduate in four years or fewer, giving them a head start on their careers.

Among other key findings in this year’s survey:

  • 77 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as “excellent,” compared to 53 percent for graduates of flagship public universities;
  • 79 percent of liberal arts college graduates report benefiting “very much” from high-quality teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for alumni of flagship public universities;
  • 88 percent of liberal arts graduates said there was a sense of community among students, compared to 79 percent for private universities and 63 percent for public flagship universities.
The media is not wrong to point out the rising tuition costs, and students should definitely weigh the cost against the benefits. But college is more than just a training ground for a future career, and it is more than just an economic choice. The value in an education is the person that you are when you leave, the connections that you make while you are there, and the skills that you gain along the way. There are many people for whom a college education is primarily an economic choice, and those people are served well by universities and colleges that focus on career training. But what can be gained at a residential liberal arts college is not measurable in money alone.
The answer to the question, “is college worth it?” not even taking into account the economic gains, is an emphatic yes.
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Susan

I am old and wise.Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.
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SusanIn Defense of the Liberal Arts Education

36 Comments on “In Defense of the Liberal Arts Education”

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  1. Avatar of Ailanthus-altissima
    Ailanthus-altissima

    Susan, I also wanted to say that I have loved that we both covered this topic in different ways coincidentally on the same day. It was fantastic to think about how the college experience is viewed and the expectations put on it, and then to follow it up with this fantastic, data-laced discussion of the value of liberal arts. High fives? High fives.

  2. Avatar of Monica
    Monica

    I had a liberal arts education and I loved it. I went to a non-traditional school (Alverno College, where we don’t have grades and we have an 8 tier ability base system) at an all women’s private school and it was a phenomenal education. My MLIS graduate program at a state university? Less awesome.

    However. I feel that there is a giant gap between what we learn, how we learn it, and what’s expected of us in the job market. I do feel that I took classes that were required and pointless. I feel that some of the way courses are structured focuses too much on busy work and not enough on applicable knowledge/things I can show to a prospective interviewer (and this is in GRAD SCHOOL. WTF!).  And don’t even get me started on internships or fieldwork opportunities.

    So I guess it depends on where you go, what teachers/courses you have, and how you take it in. I cherish my undergrad education and social environment. My graduate one has a lot to be desired for.

  3. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
    Bryn Donovan

    Very well-written article (as always from Susan), with some good points. I tend to be on the other side of this issue.

    I think the university system is due for a complete overhaul. The costs are out of control. In the internet era, I question why the bricks-and-mortar campus is still so prevalent. Many colleges don’t offer flexible enough solutions for people with jobs or kids; they are still set up primarily to serve full-time students whose parents are paying most of the bills. Along with the cost, the scheduling can be a significant barrier to poor and working-class people, and together, they are big barriers to socioeconomic mobility.

    People have told me that the quality of online classes is poor, but I don’t see any reason why this would inevitably be the case. I’m guessing (?) universities now have little incentive to make those classes excellent, because they represent less revenue than traditional classes. People are less experienced at setting up these kinds of classes, so we’re probably still learning best practices. Finally, it just takes a paradigm shift to recognize that the virtual classroom experience could be a premium one.

    I’m really interested in the possibilities suggested by MITx, MIT’s free online certificate program, as well as the free courses at sites like Khan Academy. A friend of mine has just started learning Russian at Livemocha, and she feels like the interaction with different native speakers is fantastic. That’s something a traditional classroom wouldn’t be able to offer.

    A lot of people feel the traditional on-campus experience is important for socializing, and certainly it’s nice to have a built-in social set, but not at the cost of being heavily in debt later. It’s not the only way to make friends.

    Anyway, I feel the future of education is more technology-based and more self-directed, and therefore more individualized, affordable, and accessible. I keep meaning to read this book DIY U, which I’m sure will have some interesting perspectives.

    I’m anticipating my opinion won’t be very popular, but that’s OK.

    I don’t know if this matters or not: I went to a small liberal arts college. I got a ton of scholarship money and financial aid, and I worked an average of 20 hours a week while in school. I got an MFA, which I believe was not only a waste of time but actually detrimental to my writing, but that’s another story. I’m in my 40s and still paying lots of student loan $$, which definitely colors my perspective.

    1. Avatar of Alex
      Alex

      Ironically, the resources you describe are cornerstones of affordable education in countries with heavily state subsidised traditional education. My current state sixth form college relies on IT-led education as a strong plank of it’s service provision, and its how our relatively small staff deal with a 2,000-pupil-strong college. IT services really cut costs even if you’re physically providing them.

      It’s important to remember that in many countries in the world (not just first-world ones) education is state-led and costs are relatively low. Here in the UK our university fees are considered fairly expensive for Europe (which they are), but the average person can still go to University and live afterwards (and student loans here are both guaranteed and don’t require payment until you earn over a certain amount of money, with artificially deflated interest rates).

      The problem, I don’t think, is in the bricks; it’s in the fact that the US government refuses to treat Universities as the potential engines for social equality they can be, and fund them accordingly. I honestly do think you’re discounting the significance of the social role of Universities; here in the UK, at least, they’re huge agents for social activism and the ovens from which our best political speakers and thinkers arrive from. I’m not sure that would happen through internet Universities. University has the potential at its best to be a gigantic social equaliser, giving students access to physical resources and more importantly SPACES of learning which they can’t access elsewhere.

      I suppose what I’m saying is that fundamentally, there’s a difference between a library and wikipedia, even assuming the content was exactly the same. I don’t think we’d move to educating our children purely online, because there’s a vital role not just in socialisation but in mental widening that happens through school. As a 17 year-old myself, I don’t think my mind-widening will be finished by the time I’m 18 – the experiences and potential gains I get at University will affect me and give me intellectual tools I may not have elsewhere. Universities don’t just represent teaching; they represent research, a coalescing of people with similar academic goals, a vital social heart of an institution with the power to show people perspectives they might not see in their part-time internet course.
      That said, I’m not discounting the power of internet courses. My mum earned her degree through the Open University, which is both cheap and eminently accessible (particularly to people like my mum, who never finished A-levels). But I wouldn’t discount the power of Universities as places of directed learning. Cambridge University isn’t just a place where students go to learn, and it’s not just a Research Institute; it’s really the best of both.

      God all of my posts recently come down to “different strokes”.

      1. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
        Bryn Donovan

        Thanks for the thoughtful response! I’m still not clear why a bricks-and-mortar campus can provide some of the benefits you’re talking about in a way that a virtual campus cannot. I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m just not seeing why that would be true.

        To be clear, I’m talking about the benefits of a kind of virtual university that doesn’t exist yet, as far as I know. Online courses are currently an afterthought, they aren’t a rich experience. I doubt many of them are consciously geared toward fostering community and debate, for instance. But community and debate can happen very well online (as Persephone proves, right?) And U.S. colleges aren’t bringing in enough diverse viewpoints, because of the socioeconomic barriers.

        Since the U.S. government is massively in debt, I’m more interested in solutions that don’t involve more government investment.

        1. Avatar of Alex
          Alex

          I think it’s a place-of-study kind of thing; courses of the type you’re describing rely very heavily on independent study, which in my opinion requires space, a place of study. I think it’s something a sociologist or psychologist would answer better than me, but I know coming from a poor background myself that I valued immensely “scholarly places”, libraries, schools, etc. I think having a place of work establishes a common purpose and in some way an “environment of learning”.

          As for funding, I just don’t think you can improve University access without heavy government investment, I just don’t. I suppose philosophically you could think of those costs being returned through the taxes of the subsequent higher earners, haha. Here in Europe our tax rates are much higher and we get better public services as a result – I think that’s the only connection I can safely establish.

          Virtual reality is going to fucking rock, is what this discussion seems to have brought home to me xD

          1. Avatar of Monica
            Monica

            I had a sociology professor who, after a student (who was a mom) commented about the difficulty in finding time in a busy schedule, asked her whether she had a space in her house set aside for school work. When she said that she didn’t, he talked about how having a space for school work is just as important as finding the time for it. If you don’t have the space, it’s not a priority in your head, you don’t feel comfortable or encouraged, you don’t take on what essentially is the ROLE of being a student.

            Every time we take a class or learn something, we’re taking on a new role. If it’s a science class, we’re talking on the role of being a scientist. That’s harder to do when you can’t put yourself in the right mental mode, and having a space of your own to do that is very helpful.

        2. Avatar of Susan
          Susan

          I think…this is hard for me to put into words, but I’m going to try.  I think that an online, virtual university would be lacking in diversity in a different way.  It would be hugely, hugely self-selecting in terms of people who are willing/able to take part.

          What I would like to see is repayment plans that are based on a percentage of income after college, so college would cost you relative to what your return on investment is.

        1. Avatar of Alex
          Alex

          That’s what the hospital tells me. Could be some weird “my grandmother is my mother” shit that I don’t know about, though, Liv Tyler style.

           

           

    2. Avatar of Susan
      Susan

      All excellent points, as always.

      I’m still paying student loans, and will be for the next 24.5 years, so I definitely get you.  I also, though, see the difference between our students as seniors and our students as freshmen, and I think that is rarely talked about when the “COST OF COLLEGE” articles are written.

      I have lots of thoughts on virtual education.  My husband and a good friend have both done virtual courses, and they both haaaaaaaaaated them.  My husband will never do it again.  He couldn’t handle the lag in time between asking a question and having it answered – if it’s over e-mail, by the time the professor got back to him, he had already forgotten the question.  So from a student’s perspective, at least the way it’s done now, it’s not working.

      From the college’s perspective: I know that my college (where I work) is looking into virtual courses, and for the opposite reason of why you speculated that they might not make money – in a tuition-driven institution, and a small one at that, we have to figure out ways to be flexible for students and to offer more possibilities.  It is a constant topic at faculty meetings, but at this point, we can’t make it work, because we can’t stay true to our mission (critical thinking, world scholars, etc.) while offering online courses.  But from the world of higher education, it is *definitely* being considered.  And there is HUGE incentive to be able to figure out how to make the quality good, but at least at my school, it isn’t realistic.

      From a teacher’s perspective: I have been involved in a program that (ironically, I guess) teaches Russian to students on an individual level, and after several years of it, including supervision, I don’t think self-directed education is the direction that we are going to go in.  Additional note: watching students using Rosetta Stone, which actually is very well set up and has interaction with live native speakers built in, has led me to the same conclusion.  There are some students who can learn this way.  I have one student right now who is using Rosetta Stone and supplementing it with me, and there were students in the individual program (which, in my opinion, was set up as well as it could be, with structured conversation times, deadlines, constant live support, etc.) who did well.  The overwhelming majority do not.

      I’m going to put that in a new paragraph because I think it is really important.  The overwhelming majority of students on an individual study program do poorly.

      What you describe would probably be really useful for mid-career people who are ready to take their studies seriously, but 18-year-olds, in my experience, need a live environment in order to thrive.

      On the other hand, I definitely see your points – huge debt isn’t getting us anywhere.  What I would really love is for there to be a program that would allow your debt to be forgiven, or for student loan debt to be eligible for bankruptcy.  The income contingent payment plan has been a lifesaver for me, and I am grateful that that exists.

      1. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
        Bryn Donovan

        I know a lot of current online courses suck. I believe it’s because they are an afterthought, and that they could be great. I think I could teach a super-successful online class in creative writing, for instance. But I have no proof right now that they could be great!

        You’re saying independent study is more appropriate for mid-career people who are ready to take their studies seriously. I don’t know…I kind of feel like if people aren’t ready to take their studies seriously, maybe they shouldn’t be in college. But I’m coming from a perspective of having been the first generation in my family to go to college, and having been pretty fucking determined as a result of that.

        But I do see your point that not everyone is able to learn more independently. I still think it should be a much larger arm of the educational system and shouldn’t necessarily be “lesser than” the traditional campus experience. Hell, there may be a lot of students who would learn better independently. More options would be better.

         

        1. Avatar of Susan
          Susan

          Definitely definitely.  Also, I am *hugely* biased on this, based on my own experiences at two different types of school and my current employment.

          1. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
            Bryn Donovan

            I’m super biased, too. After all, I’m a shy nerd, so I prefer typing at people :D And I’m susceptible to thinking that what would work for me would work for everyone, when obviously that’s not true! I don’t have any experience of administering at a university, and only a little, not-recent teaching experience, so it’s good to hear from someone who’s in the thick of it. I think it’s easy for me to become idealistic and unrealistic.

            ETA: And I guess I’m not really taking an opposite viewpoint from you. I do value a liberal arts education, and I’m just talking about the delivery system.

        2. Avatar of Monica
          Monica

          I think an issue is that a lot of people are social learners, and that is hard to fulfill in an online environment. it’s weird/interesting because I can comment on a lot of Persephone posts and things on Tumblr but then getting me to discussion in an online class forum? HORRIBLE.

          I think the issue is that the class feels “Formal” and this is “Informal” communication. There seems to be less freedom in what you can talk about. It could depend on the class but …yeah, I don’t like it.

          Also, I don’t get to pick out a cool name and shiny picture. Hmph.

           

          1. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
            Bryn Donovan

            That’s an interesting point (and now I’m imagining how to set up my imaginary online creative writing workshop that no college has asked me to teach.) What can online education learn from the best practices of social media? I also wonder if online education can somehow apply basic principles of gamification to make people more engaged.

            I know when businesses first tried to take their retail experience online, they made mistakes by not being smart enough about online behavior and by not taking full advantage of the technology. They gradually learned and created better shopping experiences. This could happen with online education, too.

            As you say, it wouldn’t ever be for everybody. Then again, the physical campus now isn’t for everybody, either.

             

            1. Avatar of Monica
              Monica

              I think part of it is that it’s really hard to get to know people in a class – there are a lot of names, and you need some way of remembering who they are and connecting with them. A profile for each student might help. Assigning them to small groups instead of lumping all the discussion posts together (it’s really daunting to see that you have 50+ discussion posts to read and respond to). I would not assign people to groups for projects though, not if there is only a week to do it. I would only be able to check the class on my days off (Thurs and Fri) and the assignment would be due on Sunday -  btw it was never on the syllabus and she would assign them randomly.

              A lot of online classes don’t have email notifications when someone responds to what you post. I really wish they did; that would make discussion a lot easier and it would flow better.

               

    3. Avatar of Monica
      Monica

      I feel like an online course requires a certain amount of privilege and resources that you don’t need with a physical class. For starters, it would require an at home computer and internet connection. I’m willing to agree that I think a lot of people can do this, however I think it would bridge the gap even more between poorer students and affluent ones.

      Online classes also involve a LOT more time and busy work – which is why it’s more beneficial to have the home Internet connection and computer.

      It also depends on the content being taught and the type of learner you are. I took a class about video games (more specifically, how video games help us learn information literacy skills) and it worked because a lot of the work involved watching walkthroughs of video games and then posting our findings. You can’t really do that successfully in a class setting, when the clips are 10 minutes long each.  You could…but you’d be limited in how many you could watch and doing it all at once in chunks would give you information overload.

      Then I took another class online and it was a disaster. I’m actually retaking it in person – I don’t find the subject very interesting, but it’s a required class. Sometimes you just don’t feel that you have anything to talk about but online classes make participation a HUGE part of the grade. That’s actually more difficult than you think. It’s easy for me to talk about the subject in class with human interaction; typing up a paragraph can take a lot longer.

       

      1. Avatar of Bryn Donovan
        Bryn Donovan

        I do think in general, an online class has the capacity to be more democratic and universally accessible than a physical one. Most college courses already more or less necessitate owning a computer. The online course doesn’t require transportation or child/elder care. I think it could be better for people with mobility or hearing issues. Even online discussions could be asychronous to accommodate varying work schedules…as well as accommodating people who like to think things out before they type.

        (I, uh, apparently do not fall into that category, as I’m sort of “thinking aloud” by typing on this thread…I think I’ll shut up now, to be honest. I’m kind of getting on my own nerves.)

        1. Avatar of Monica
          Monica

          I agree that it COULD do those things but I also think that professors are even less flexible with some of their online classes.

          For example,  I don’t think there should be a cut off time on when discussions should be posted. I did online classes because I had a weird schedule and it was the best fit for my time. The day my professor chose for the class was the most inconvenient.  Some weeks it’s really hard to fit in discussion post, and I think you should be able to catch up at a later time if you need.

          I think there needs to be more understanding that some people chose online courses for a reason (whatever it may be) and not just because it was available.

    4. Avatar of Susan
      Susan

      I also wanted to say this: you said that you thought your opinion would be not-in-the-majority here, which is funny, because I expected MINE to be not-in-the-majority.  Because I can definitely see both sides, and a crapton of debt for some touchy feely learning doesn’t make much sense.  And I have known plenty of people who have gotten GREAT life educations not through liberal arts.  So even as I wrote this, even as I am defending liberal arts, I figured most people would think I was being elitist and impractical.

  4. Avatar of Alex
    Alex

    This really saddens me too. All of my university-bound friends always talk about how their degrees will position them career-wise all the time. Which is great, but its rare we get to talk about how much we love our subjects.

    I’m applying for the 2013 year to do Asian Studies (Mandarin specifically) and I pretty much wound up chosing it BECAUSE it was illogical. Whenever anyone asks me about what career I want I’m like “emerging marketplace…things to offer a worker – LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS TOMB MAO BURNED. ALSO SHE DREW A LINE IN THE SKY WITH HER HAIRPIN AND IT’S THE MILKY WAY AND MAGPIES MAKE A BRIDGE. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT CHINESE ISLAM. WHY ARE YOU WALKING AWAY…?

  5. Avatar of Elfity
    Elfity

    Oh, how I desired to go to a private, liberal arts university. Sadly, the scholarships offered weren’t enough, and when one’s family is gracious enough to pay for one’s education, one cannot be so picky.

    I’m happy with the public uni education I got, I suppose. I wish I had gone to a much smaller school, but I’m happy. I made the most of it, combining all sorts of basket-weaving liberal intellectual classes with my sensible-ish curriculum. I didn’t get nearly my fill of art history, feminist theory, and history courses, but I’m relatively satisfied. I know how to pick up a book and teach myself, so I can live with what I have, but I wish I’d gotten the close-knot discussion experience I hear happens at other universities.

    1. Avatar of Susan
      Susan

      I think – I might be wrong about this, but I think you can have a similar experience at a big research school, it’s just harder to find.

      The flipside of it is that when I am writing an article like this, I am all YEAH!  SMALL PRIVATE SCHOOL!  But I am definitely up to my eyeballs in debt.  So.

      1. Avatar of deuteragonist
        deuteragonist

        There is! Major in Classics. (And be an honors student). This is of course based only anecdotally on my own experience, but I had small classes, great advisers, and got to take a surprisingly wide range of classes. (Selected classes from the Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Linguistics, English, Art History, Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Medieval Studies, and of course Greek, Latin and Classics departments all counted towards my degree).

        The downside? I have to be really creative when talking about how my experience/education has prepared me for ____ job

        1. Avatar of Olivia Waite
          Olivia Waite

          I’d second that advice as a former classics major — plus, I got my masters in Comparative Literature at a huge public university with a graduate program, and that’s also a subject I’d recommend for the same uses. Most comp lit programs require you to study several languages, plus assorted other credits — but most of those are going to be your choice of subjects. If you’re lucky enough to get teaching assistant positions, like I was, you could wind up with a graduate degree and zero debt. Those positions are extra-competitive these days, though.

           

    2. Avatar of Silverwane
      Silverwane

      I was lucky enough that there was a small, public liberal arts school in my state that is highly affordable and gave me a full ride. So, I don’t think you have to go to a private one to really get the full experience. But unfortunately not every state might have that…

      1. Avatar of Cathleen
        Cathleen

        I had a similar experience during my undergrad. I went to a small public liberal arts college that had good tuition and a comprehensive curriculum.  The Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (consists of 26 public colleges and universities in 24 states and one Canadian province) might be a good place for people to begin researching quality affordable schools. Here’s the link, if anyone is interested: http://www.coplac.org/ .

  6. Avatar of Lilydancing
    Lilydancing

    As a graduate student at a large research university, I feel that the problem is the students. They do not understand the value of critical thinking skills, of developing a broad understanding of the world around them, or any of the other intangible benefits of the education process. It’s all $$$ and GET ME A JOB.

    It’s really quite depressing.

    I could elaborate on this, but I’m hungry and angry at the world.

    1. Avatar of Susan
      Susan

      I think that there are two camps of students, one of which is typically drawn to a liberal arts school (education!) and one that is drawn to a more focused school (training!).  I am in the former camp, my husband is most certainly in the latter.  I think both have their benefits, but it is hard to teach, to really teach, those who just want tangible skills for a job.

      1. Avatar of Silverwane
        Silverwane

        I think this is definitely a good point. My boyfriend and I also have a similar dynamic; I love to throw myself into learning, and I want to be in academia. But he just wants to get his shit done and start teaching (he wants to teach high school mathematics).

  7. Avatar of Silverwane
    Silverwane

    As someone who got her BA at a liberal arts institution, I can absolutely attest that liberal arts has so much to give. Sure, I might not have as deep of a focus (yet!) as some philosophy PhD programs are looking for, but when I listen to people talk, sometimes I remember something I learned in a class completely unrelated to my focus now!

    The other day, I got to throw in some of what I learned in a linguistics class into a philosophical discussion. Another time I got to use a physics class to understand Issac Newton’s philosophy. And just today, I talked a little about biology! And these are all things I learned about in the course of liberal arts.

    And then if we start to talk about the breadth I got in my field…there’s even more to be said about that.

    The thing, I think, that liberal arts gives most is at least a cursory understanding of methods, as well as a more interdisciplinary look on the world. And that has so much value in our world.

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