The benefits of a liberal arts education are numerous. However, many parents are concerned that the liberal arts won’t prepare their children for a lucrative career.
As an independent educational consultant, I talk with many students and parents about finding colleges where the student will be academically successful and happy. The conversation often focuses on both the student’s interests and the parents’ concerns about the student’s future employment options.
Parents speak of a college education as an investment in their child’s future. Given tuition rates, it is certainly a costly investment. However, they tend to focus on careers that are currently lucrative, often forgetting that some didn’t exist ten years ago and others may not exist ten years from now.
Many parents seem to acknowledge the value of a liberal arts education with a tentative nod of the head, but little real buy-in. That is, until I begin talking about the skills that employers are looking for in graduates. As it turns out, 74% of CEOs would recommend a liberal arts degree.
Here are some of the skills that students gain from a liberal arts education that employers value:
Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving
Business thrives on innovation. The broad base education of liberal arts gives students the tools they need to imagine and test complex solutions to complicated problems.
In their classes, students are given problems to ponder and solve. While those in pre-professional programs are often tasked with using existing knowledge to argue for a solution, liberal arts students are expected to research new, creative approaches for dealing with problems.
In the workplace, liberal arts majors have the skills to propose new ways to streamline processes, design products, and ensure quality. A 2013 survey showed that 95% of employers prefer these kinds of graduates– the ones that can contribute to innovation.
Liberal arts classes stress writing and public speaking. This hones their ability to organize thoughts cohesively and express opinions in a clear, reasoned way.
These skills make young graduates more capable of impressing employers in an interview, networking with executives, and successfully petitioning a pay raise.
Importantly, communication complements creative problem solving. When your child develops a revolutionary new product, their ability to contact investors and make a splash in the press will depend heavily on oral and written communication skills.
It’s no surprise that 93% of employers agree that an individual’s ability to “think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”
Leadership and Teamwork
Whether leading a meeting, training new recruits, organizing a performance or closing a business deal, leadership and teamwork are hallmarks of success in nearly every career.
Liberal arts students spend ample time working on group projects. They learn to interact in a team not only by leading, but also by following. They understand how to work together and when to take charge, as well as how to motivate and inspire others.
A Capacity for Continued New Learning
In a world with constantly changing technologies and demographics, liberal arts students know how to adapt.
Many parents are glad when their children take classes to learn directly applicable technical skills. That’s because these skills often ensure a clear route to a specific job after graduation.
However, many technical skills may not endure:
“Inventions and innovations in technology will render some of today’s technical skills obsolete before long.” — Dan Glaser, “The Risky English Major? Not So Fast.”
For this reason, a capacity for continued new learning is absolutely essential for today’s graduates. Those students who can take advantage of professional development opportunities will find themselves with better job security in the future.
Liberal arts education emphasizes how to learn, as well as how to research new interests. Graduates from liberal arts programs are not afraid to learn from progress reviews and sign up for training sessions. As a result, they are often at the top of the game when it comes to new technologies. They master constantly updating software like Photoshop and organize successful events by tapping into trending topics on social media.
In the future, liberal arts graduates will be working jobs that don’t even exist today. Their openness to new learning — combined with skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, leadership, and teamwork — may prove to be extremely lucrative.