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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Defense of the Liberal Arts

So April is National Poetry Month, and I thought it would be a great time to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot lately: the disappearing liberal arts education.

Last year, Forbes reported that only 1.6 percent of hiring managers actively sought out candidates with liberal arts degrees, preferring instead engineering, math, computer science and business (actually, practically any other major). Plus, 64 percent said they would consider someone with no college experience at all. Yay for the unschooler, but what the what?!

This kind of statistic is disheartening to someone like me, who is proud of her BA in English. And it’s sad not just because I believe I am a valuable contributor to society and I am proud of the quality college education I received, but also because I see the reverberating effects in the corporate world. Decision-makers in business are increasingly not putting a priority on the creativity, communication skills and well roundedness that a liberal arts education provides.

In fact, American entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen was recently quoted as saying, “I’m sure it’s fun, but the average college graduate with a degree in something like English is going to end up working in a shoe store.”

And while the media lauds the idea that one in four self-made American billionaires is a college dropout, what many people may not know is that among the top 100 billionaires, more hold arts degrees than math, science, finance or economics. Yet STEM continues to get priority over liberal arts programs at several universities...and when it comes to a paycheck.

I have nothing against STEM. We need STEM, and we need STEM opportunities for women. And true, engineering degrees still remain a top choice for as a major because of their high-earning potential, meanwhile, liberal arts degrees continue to sag in value. But we don’t need a country full of only engineers and MBAs. Visionaries exist across the disciplines, and the value of a degree shouldn’t just be its earning potential anyway.

We need to defend the value of a liberal arts education in our universities and our businesses. Yes, we want college students to get a degree with value, worth the investment, and a degree that can get them a job. But if we reduce our universities to technology and trade schools and gut them of classic education, we are missing the point of what higher education is all about.

A vibrant workforce is a diverse workforce with a rich background not just in finance or technology, but in the backbone of life and culture—philosophy, history and literature.


As Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating, states so eloquently in Dead Poet Society: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

So in honor of the month, unleash your inner poet, and also embrace the inner poet in the workplace.