In a recent article entitled "Get Rich U
" published in the New Yorker
magazine, Ken Auletta discussed the close and cozy relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley companies. In the provocative article the author states, “There are no walls between Stanford and Silicon Valley” and asks, “Should there be?” Stanford, typically listed as the top university in the United States among many polls is the current "it
” school with a more competitive acceptance rate than any other college in the United States (including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton). Computer science is now listed as the
most popular major at Stanford with many students desiring to seek post Stanford fortunes in Silicon Valley.
A subsequent follow up article also published in the New Yorker
magazine entitled "Laptop U
" more recently explored the explosion of online education
and the efforts of Stanford, MIT, Cornell, and several other leading universities in their effort to produce more highly profitable online learning experiences. These trends highlight efforts by universities and students alike to find ways to maximize earnings as a goal of contemporary higher education.
These current and well publicized trends contribute to the perception that traditional liberal arts education is a quaint relic of the past and that higher education that maximizes success in the business and technology world is really where the future resides. In fact, Pay Pal founder, Peter Thiel, now offers $100,000 grants through his Thiel Foundation to students under the age of 20 to drop out
of college in order to start their own companies. Business is by far the most popular college major in the United States representing almost a quarter of all undergraduate degrees earned (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013). And in a recent provocative article, 9 of the 10 top “worthless majors” were in liberal arts including philosophy
, communications, psychology, music, and so forth (Gallagher, 2013). The 10th one was education!
The rising costs of higher education, the inability of many graduates to find gainful employment in their major after graduation, the increase in and acceptance of unpaid internships after graduation, and higher expectations for luxury living all contribute to the view that liberal arts education is dead or dying. Why should students consider majoring in liberal art subjects in 2013 and beyond? Is it foolish for today’s students to major in the humanities, performing arts, social science, and even natural science when business, computer science, and engineering fields are so much more marketable and profitable? Is a liberal arts major only for those who are independently wealthy and thus don’t need to worry about earning a living?
While liberal arts education might, on the surface, appear to be old fashioned, out-of-date, and even counter cultural, it is critical to support and nurture it for several important reasons. First, the ability to engage in thoughtful, meaningful, and engaged dialogue is an important skill that liberal arts education reinforces, develops, and nurtures quite well. In a climate of quick sound bites and polarized arguments where those who scream louder win, the ability to engage in deep, thoughtful, nuanced thinking and discussion is a critical skill to secure. Second, technical and practical skills become obsolete very quickly in a rapidly changing world. Yet, critical thinking and problem solving skills based on thoughtful and careful analysis as well as the ability to appreciate, work with, and even celebrate diversity never go out of style.
In fact, a recent comprehensive survey of employers found that most companies valued the kinds of thinking and problem solving skills secured and nurtured through liberal arts education more than the technical skills obtained in more practical vocational training (Hart Research Associates, 2013). Specifically, 93% of companies surveyed agree that a job applicant’s “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Over 90% of companies claim that job hires should demonstrate “ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.” Over 75 percent of companies want colleges to put even more emphasis on helping students develop critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings. Finally, 96% report that their job hires are at ease working with colleagues, customers, and clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Thus, contemporary employers prefer the types of skills that are developed, nurtured, and supported by liberal arts education.
Liberal arts education highlights the very skills and approaches needed today. A focus on critical thinking, diversity, good reading and writing skills, thoughtful and reasoned inquiry, and a love of learning are all qualities that must be nurtured in our citizens. Liberal arts education attempts to fully engage students in an academic discipline
that hopefully enlivens and enriches them, awakens their natural curiosity and love of learning, and develops their gifts and interests. The study of music, art, literature, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences in depth and with others hopefully results in a fuller education and stimulates a passion for life-long learning as well.
So, what do you think? Should students major in liberal arts today?
Check out my web sire at www.scu.edu/tplante and follow me on Twitter @ThomasPlante.
Copyright 2013 Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP
References and Further Reading
Abrams, T. (2013, April 15). The Choice: Colleges report 2013 acceptance rates - NYTimes.com. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/colleges-report-201....
Auletta, K. (2012, April 30). Get Rich U. The New Yorker, 38-47.
Gallagher, B. (2013, April 11). The 10 most worthless college majors. Complex. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://www.complex.com/city-guide/2013/04/10-most-worthless-colle....
Hart Research Associates (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. An online survey among employers conducted on behalf of: The Association Of American Colleges and Universities. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf.
Heller, N. (2013, May 20): Laptop U: Is college moving online? The New Yorker. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/05/20/130520fa_fact_heller.
National Center for Educational Statistics (2013). Most popular majors - Fast Facts. Washington, DC: Author, Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37.
Robst, J. (2007). Education and job match: The relatedness of college major and work. Economics of Education Review, 26(4), 397-407.