Since 2000, higher education enrollment rates have continued to increase as students pursue their degrees in hopes of a brighter, more economically-sound future. Degrees in STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are popular amongst students eager for future job security in an unstable market. The same unemployment statistics that provided motivation for students to pursue a post-secondary education become a greater cause for concern as graduation nears.
The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University reports that over one-third of today’s graduates will end up working in positions that do not require a degree or, in which their education is under-utilized. While graduates are grappling to stand out in a competitive job market, employers report that the current state of higher education is not producing students who possess the important attributes once associated with a highly-educated workforce. According to a study conducted by Chegg, an online textbook resale site, and Harris Interactive, a marketing research firm, only 45% of hiring managers surveyed believed that today’s graduates hold the proper skills to be successful in the workforce.
These skills include analytical thinking, effective communication and the ability to work independently or with supervisors and clients. If some form of post-secondary education is necessary in order to obtain most types of employment, why are our higher education institutions failing to produce graduates that are ready for the workplace? Something fundamental is missing from our education. So how do we align our education needs with the needs of our future employers? The answer lies in the liberal arts.
The foundation of the liberal arts curriculum are the humanities, sciences and social sciences, which allow for students to develop their analytical skills in addition to learning about diversity and social responsibility, however, the liberal arts have fallen out of favor as American society has strived to build a workforce that can remain competitive in the global fields of engineering and technology.
In response to naysayers, the Association for American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) reported in January 2014 that a liberal arts education has been found to provide the necessary skills for long-term success in the workforce, closing the wage gap between graduates with a liberal arts education and those with a professional degree.
When used in conjunction with career and technical training, a liberal arts degree provides a well-rounded educational experience. Successful businessman and history major, Edgar M. Bronfman, CEO of Seagram Corporation, wrote of the importance of his liberal arts education in the workplace. “Essential to my success… was the fact that I was engaged in the larger world around me.”
Students may consider liberal arts classes as little more than a requirement necessary to accomplish the more pressing goal: obtaining a degree or certification that will translate to more dollars earned for its recipient. This is a narrow-minded approach to the college experience and perpetuates the disappointment felt by graduates when their degrees do not provide the monetary returns they expected.
According to Martin Luther King Jr., “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” Education is not just about memorizing random facts or figures, processes or techniques. Education is about expanding one’s mind and obtaining knowledge that is both useful and readily utilized in our work and personal lives. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” If this is the goal of education, it should be our goal, as students, to view our education as a character building experience.
We should seek out knowledge of the world that will enhance our learned job skills. Becoming more engaged in the humanities and social sciences will make us more engaged in our communities and workplaces by highlighting the importance of critical thinking and broadening our world view.
Instead of seeing our time at SLCC as a means to an end, we should see it as a journey of knowledge and self-improvement that will benefit us not only in our work, but also in our lives. I urge you, fellow students, as you continue your education, to consider focusing on the liberal arts as more than necessary credit hours, and instead embrace the liberal arts as part of a comprehensive education.