A Liberal Education is a Practical Education

a table showing the skills that employers value in their hires

Table 4 from the latest AAC&U Report, How College Contributes to Workforce Success: Employer Views on What Matters Most

As I consider the excitement and challenges for high school students this month, I want to share a message primarily for juniors and seniors, since both groups of students are likely highly engaged in the college search – either at its beginning or in its final stages: Wherever you go, whatever you study, I hope you will seek out an education for the whole person that will last a lifetime. In other words, please consider a liberal arts education!

A “liberal” education has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with preparing for more than a specific job. A liberal arts education teaches students to understand and see connections between cause and effect, politics and economics, the past and the future – and makes life more fun and interesting. A liberal arts approach to evaluating the impact of technology during the past year would consider how technology preserved much of our work and educational outlets when COVID hit as well as the toll it has taken on human relationships.

While I do try to “think big,” I am a practical thinker at heart. This article highlights the key takeaways from the latest report by American Association of Colleges & Universities on what employers want – and what they want are employees with the skills that liberal arts graduates have: critical and creative thinking, strong verbal and written communication, the ability to work in teams, data fluency, and problem-solving skills. Employers value these skills across all industries, from engineering, technology, and medicine to  law, education, corporate business, and non-profit work.

Seniors: Congratulations on your many successes so far. I hope you have liberal arts schools at the top of your list and consider them fully when making your final choice.

Juniors: Open your minds and hearts to liberal arts schools. Put them on the list. Do some research. Consider the value employers place on the skills you will develop but, more importantly, consider the value YOU place on practical and philosophical skills.

Students of all ages: Seek to be a lifelong learner. Embrace complex thinking. Prepare to create new ideas, synthesized from the wonderful education available to you at a liberal arts college. And please consider how a liberal education might be the most practical education of all…. You’ll be glad you did.