By Chelsea Cabral, Staff Writer
In a time where STEM, nursing, and business degrees appear to rule the market, nowadays it seems that prospective students and parents are bogged down in considering this looming question: “Is a liberal arts education actually worth it?”
We live in a new era of vast technological innovations, smartphones, drones, virtual reality, and such. The liberal arts education faces its hardest challenge ever: to prove that it is just as vital as the STEM-related fields.
But what is liberal arts per se? Is it just studying the works of Plato all day and thinking about how everything in the world has some drastic symbolic meaning?
In actuality, liberal arts comes from the Latin term, “artes liberals” which was used to denote all the subjects in ancient Greece that citizens mastered in order to fulfill their political role in society.
In today’s modern university, the phrase is used to mean all the disciplines that constitute a comprehensive understanding of natural and social sciences, along with humanities, mathematics, and literacy skills.
A liberal arts curriculum would focus on giving integrated and life-long knowledge on a variety of subjects that will help expand our minds and give us a more comprehensible approach to life issues, through studying different disciplines like literature, psychology, soci-ology, economics, women’s and gender studies, philosophy, political science, etc.
I, for example, study political science, English, and am pursuing a minor in women’s and gender studies.
It’s difficult to argue for my field of study to my non-liberal arts friends because they always ask, “Well, what are you going to do with that?” or “How is that going to help you in the long run?”
Liberal arts gets a bad reputation, and that’s been largely reinforced by the media leading people to believe that you’re destined for success through pursuing “practical” degrees like engineering, nursing, or business but will end up as a Starbucks barista or a retail cashier if you pursue a liberal arts education.
I spoke with Professor Jeannette Riley, UMass Dartmouth’s Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, on this very topic.
As a keen vocal proponent for the liberal arts, Dean Riley sees immense value in an education immersed in thinking beyond the confines of background or economic constraints.
“I think that myth got started because people, and rightfully so, are very concerned about what will your work be after you leave the University—will you have economic stability and security—and we lose sight of the value that a liberal arts education with a broad foundation in several different areas can provide you,” Riley theorizes.
I personally don’t thinking that pursuing a liberal arts education is a wasted investment.
In fact, that “investment” hasn’t been wasted if the outcome is that it has produced a well-rounded, determined, and intelligent citizen who will add to the betterment of the world with their experience. A liberal arts education could certainly contribute to that if it’s done correctly.
Dean Riley also says, “Most importantly, what [a liberal arts education] will do for you is enable you to shift as the economy changes. If a particular job you’re in goes away or you see another opportunity that you want to pursue, those skills can propel you in a different direction.”
Let’s face it: we live in a knowledge-based economy; the fundamental skill for everyone to learn is basically how to keep learning. Many of the exciting, noble jobs of the future don’t exist yet, but when the time comes, a person with a well-rounded background and education will very easily assimilate to the demands of those kinds of new jobs.
This ever-changing, global economy that comprises our world needs someone who is prepared to adapt and meet new challenges with a critical eye and mind.
A liberal arts education helps students prepare for the creative thinking that lies ahead which in turn leads to better innovation and problem solving.
“Do you know what sustains democracies? People being able to think critically, participate in civic conversations and making decisions about our policies and our institutions in ways that can better our communities,” says Dean Riley. “A liberal arts degree gives you the foundation to participate in these processes.”
What’s important to also point out is that passionate curiosity is not only what you bring to college; it’s what the college experience develops in you.
Majoring in liberal arts can give you the opportunity to pursue what most interests you as well as lead you to a career that you’ll love, not just a job to go to everyday.
So, don’t turn your back on the liberal arts. It gives you an education that is full of enrichment and interdisciplinary knowledge that will help you understand diversity, critical thinking, teamwork, and creativity.
Liberal arts can welcome you to the world of critical problem solving, so go on and make a difference.