We want to stress up front that we are not arguing that financial
considerations are unimportant in choosing a major or in selecting the courses
one takes in college. We are not saying that anyone should disregard
financial concerns. We’re not complete morons.
current advice given to prospective students is that choosing a major is the
most important decision they can make. They are encouraged by parents,
politicians and a myriad of pundits to select a major that offers the highest
salary upon graduation. Education is increasingly becoming preparation
for a specific occupation, and many students only want to take courses in their
major. Courses beyond the major, e.g., humanities, are not seen as practical or
as valuable on the job market. This is a huge misconception.
courses like philosophy, language, and literature disappear from programs of
study and are replaced by specialized courses aimed at a specific occupations,
the purpose of a college education narrows. A college education becomes
nothing more than occupational training.
broad or liberal education includes a wide range of courses and knowledge. This
provides many benefits. It is important to consider in making educational
choices, e.g., what courses to take or what major to choose. It’s something you
should not disregard.
we go on we’ll present our view or understanding of a broad or liberal
education. A liberal education is one that goes beyond an emphasis only
on courses and knowledge in a specialized topic area or your major. Its
purpose is to develop broad capacities that can be applied to any area or any
kind of job.
main objectives of a liberal education are adaptability, integration, and
lifelong learning. It includes developing ability in analytical thinking,
creative problem solving, written and oral communication, and adopting multiple
education is compatible with any major, specialization, or professional
program. It simply means that attaining the broad objectives and developing the
general abilities of liberal education is something that should be central to
your education. We’re not just saying
this. A broad education really can make
simple way to broaden your education and add to its value is by taking a wide
range of courses outside your major, especially the humanities. Also, you should take seriously courses you
are required to take in the humanities and other areas outside of your
major. They deserve as much attention as
courses in your major. They are important.
They really are.
Why Liberal Education?
short answer to the question is given by taking an informed and realistic look
at the world in which we live. Liberal education is the best preparation for
both today’s world and the unknown future. We are living in a world shaped by
rapidly changing economic, technological, and political factors that have a direct
influence on our ability to make a living and live a satisfying life. The objectives
of broad or liberal education (i.e., adaptability, integration, and lifelong
learning) are obviously important to surviving and thriving in today’s and
tomorrow’s world. A strictly specialized education that doesn’t teach these
objectives is of limited value.
Liberal Education and the Changing Employment
five years ago it was predicted that people entering the job market could
expect to change careers, not just jobs, up to five times over their working
lives. Studies of job and career change since that early projection uniformly
point to the same conclusion. Today’s generation will change careers and jobs
much more often than previous generations. It is clear from the projections
that the days of employment stability experienced by previous generations are
change predicted is that the nature of employment itself will change. Many
people will work for firms in a capacity similar to consultants or free
lancers. They will sell their services to organizations for a limited period or
for certain projects or tasks. These temporary professionals will be
self-employed rather than employees of the organizations for which they work.
They might work for multiple organizations at the same time. These people obviously need broad talents and
they must continually learn. These are
aspects of liberal education.
may work in jobs and careers that were nonexistent shortly before they entered
the job market. In some cases, people will create a new position for themselves
or develop a new service to offer to organizations.
careers may disappear. For example, new products or manufacturing
processes can make your area of specialization obsolete, and you must find a
these situations, a broad education will be a great help. A wide
knowledge base and flexible skill set are more valuable than a narrow one.
abilities developed as part of a liberal education--i.e., adaptability,
integration, and lifelong learning-- are essential for success in an economic
environment characterized by instability. A world with an accelerating pace of change
requires an ability to adapt. Lifelong learning is
necessary to routinely keep up with new methods, techniques, and approaches as
and innovation are also requirements for success in a changing
world. Integration of what’s good about the old with the
new as well as the ability to integrate approaches and
knowledge from a variety of areas is necessary to create new products,
services, and careers.
Broad Education vs. Specialization on the Job Market
seems that there is no doubt that students with majors in some fields do better
financially than those in others. This finding is based, however, on what
students with different majors are currently worth on the job market, i.e.,
entry-level income. There is some data that show as the number of years
on the job increase those with a broader or liberal education advance more
quickly and make more money. This makes sense because as one climbs the
organizational ladder an expanded skill set is needed to perform. If all
you know is your specialized area, you can advance only so far.
is an example of where a narrow education in the major is not enough.
Engineering programs are typically loaded with engineering courses with little
room for electives like liberal studies courses. Upon graduation
engineering majors know a lot about their field but very little about other
areas. The result is that on the job new hires perform fine in engineering
aspects of the job, but not in broader areas of the business, e.g., economic
and social analysis, written and oral communication, and customer relations.
firms have put pressure on universities to expand the curriculum of engineering
programs to include a wider range of non-major courses, including liberal
studies courses. It is noteworthy that the call for a less narrow
engineering education is coming from the outside, i.e., engineering firms, and
not from inside universities.
important to keep in mind that you don’t always need a specific major to get a
job in a specific industry. Think of how often you have asked people in a
certain career their major in college and you’re surprised by their
answer. Of course, you can’t pursue some careers, e.g., chemistry and
medicine, without specialized training. However, these days, people who
at one time would stick to a single, specialized career path, change careers.
kinds of businesses are not that interested in hiring new employees with only
specialized training. They are interested in graduates who have a broad
education. There are studies that demonstrate that business graduates
with an education in which they learned abilities like writing, critical
thinking, and lifelong learning are more attractive to employers. They
want students who are educated and not just trained.
So How Can This Be Applied?
Obviously, there is
absolutely nothing wrong with considering economic value when choosing a major.
It would be a mistake not to. However, it is an even bigger mistake to consider
only the money a given major may provide. It is very important to find
something you are truly interested in learning. Of course, it’s really nice if
you can find something that you love and will yield a healthy income – and
staying open to a broader education will provide you with the best chance of
finding just that.