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Experts Debate Worth Of Liberal Arts Degrees

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

May 26, 2009

As more employers seek graduates with specific skill training in areas such as business or economics, many educators and leaders are questioning the value of liberal arts degrees.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit organization that surveys employers throughout the country, the most in-demand majors include accounting, engineering, computer science and business. In a nod to the trend, the University of Tennessee added seven engineering programs in the last five years, but not one liberal arts undergraduate or graduate degree.

Julie Komack, director of career services for Massachusetts Bay Community College, confirmed that the STEM programs--which include science, technology, engineering, energy and math--are the best areas for job placement.

"These are booming areas that are not taking as much of a hit as some others," she said in an interview with CityTownInfo.com. "I recommend to people who come to me after being laid off, who are in a field having a difficult time right now, or who are trying to change careers, to think outside the box and see how they can transfer their skill sets into anything within the STEM fields which are offering more stable employment options."

Nevertheless, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told graduates at St. Michael's College in Vermont that a liberal arts education is exceptionally valuable, even during these turbulent economic times.

"Albert Einstein said the value of a liberal arts education is not to learn facts, but to train your mind to think about things that cannot be learned from textbooks," he said. "So now you're probably wondering why you spent all that money on textbooks. The point is not that the facts are useless; it's just that the facts alone don't make you educated. It's how you put those facts together and what you do with them that matters. The real value of a liberal arts education is that it teaches you. . .how to analyze a situation and make a choice."

Similarly, at a recent lecture entitled "Liberal Education and America's Promise" at Miami Dade College, Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, noted that ideally students should receive both a liberal arts and a business education.

"For most students with whom we talked, business almost always trumps their arts and sciences requirements," said Ehrlich, who was quoted in The Miami Herald. "The core of accounting, finance, management and marketing is seen as the ticket to a job, while arts and science courses are too often viewed as hurdles to get over on the way to employment."

Yet he pointed out that a liberal arts education "fosters a deep sense of skepticism about accepted dogma. . . . It is incumbent on all of us, particularly at this time of economic crisis, to speak up and speak out on the need for strong liberal learning."

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