Colleges are promoting the liberal arts as a path to a good career

by Grace

Some colleges are focusing more on helping liberal arts majors “translate their studies into the work world”.  This move is spurred by concerned parents and is seen as a way to save the liberal arts.

For years, most liberal-arts schools seemed to put career-services offices “somewhere just below parking” as a matter of administrative priority, in the words of Wake Forest’s president, Nathan Hatch. But increasingly, even elite, decidedly non-career-oriented schools are starting to promote their career services during the freshman year, in response to fears about the economy, an ongoing discussion about college accountability and, in no small part, the concerns of parents, many of whom want to ensure a return on their exorbitant investment.

Parents’ expectations are a driving force in getting schools to pay attention to jobs after graduation.

… “I think families at these, dare I say, fantasy schools — they’re used to kids getting what they want, and they expect that to happen at graduation.”…

Boosting career services can help preserve the liberal arts says Andy Chan, “Wake Forest’s career-development guru”.

… If universities want to preserve the liberal arts, they have a responsibility to help those humanities majors know how to translate their studies into the work world.

What are schools doing?

Working more closely with parents to get feedback, internships, job connections, and donations.  Parents with business experience are considered a valuable resource for both their expertise and money.

Transforming some traditional humanities courses into a sort of corporate training platform, with more emphasis on training in career “core competencies” like communication and collaboration.  A history class, for example, moved to a teamwork approach as a way to highlight the development of career skills.  This approach stirred some criticism with complaints ‘about the explicit career education. “I felt like I signed up to take a history course, and sessions on professional skills were not what I was looking for,”’

Improving the message to employers.  The study of liberal arts studies can develop qualities desired by job recruiters :  “fearlessness, communication, analytic skills and teamwork”.

Are these added expenditures adding value?  Whether these efforts actually make a difference is unclear, but they are certainly an example of the boost in administrative expenditures that are a significant factor in driving up college costs.

The problem with a liberal arts degree is that ‘rigor has weakened‘.  Notwithstanding the current spin on this topic, traditional liberal-arts studies are designed to instill the skills that employers seek  — critical thinking, logical reasoning, clear writing.  But there is a problem with today’s college curriculum.

… Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.

Related:  Liberal arts skills are profitable for college graduates (Cost of College)

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2 Comments to “Colleges are promoting the liberal arts as a path to a good career”

  1. This topic is being discussed heavilly in comments on an article on the Chronicle’s site right now. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. I think that one problem, and it probably affects even the best students from the best schools, is that employers pay lip service to “critical thinking” and writing ability, but when they hire, they want SKILLS. Financial skills, specific knowledge of the healthcare world, statistical analysis, Java programming, spreadsheets! A kid, even with an A average at a strong school, coming out of with a history or English degree may be able to write well, but won’t have those specific skills. Companies used to train their liberal arts hires in the specific job skills they needed, but now they want the colleges to do it.

    There are other problems too, that affect what happens at the college level. Obviously, preparation – if a student comes into college unable to write a grammatical sentence, it is hard to turn out a great writer in 4 years. And willingness to work. I get my student evals at the end of the semester, and there is always a place for the student to fill out how many hours he or she worked outside of the course. Most students put down 1 to 2 hours per week – for a 3 credit computer science course!!! The norm, of course, is supposed to be 2 to 3 hours per credit – or 6 to 9 hours per week for a 3 credit course. No wonder they don’t learn anything. Somehow, students are not coming to college with a work ethic.

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  2. Maybe adding some practical, skill-building courses to a liberal arts major would be helpful. Programming, statistics, or similar courses might make a graduate more attractive to employers. This strikes me as better than trying to incorporate career skills into humanities courses.

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