A recent New York Times headline stopped me cold. It was entitled: “A Rising Call to Foster STEM Fields, and Decrease Liberal Arts Funding.” The article spoke of a handful of state governors who were suggesting that students majoring in liberal arts would not receive state funding for their education and that only those students “educated in fields seen as important to the economy” would benefit from funding.
As a liberal arts major and a career coach who believes in the value of a liberal arts education, this was stunning. Of course teaching students “hard” skills is important. Nobody would argue that teaching undergraduate students how to code is a bad idea. However, there is much evidence that hard skills alone don’t make for a successful employee. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, a study conducted by USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism found that “Future leaders must be strong in quantitative, technical, and business skills. But to advance in their careers, they also need to be good strategic thinkers and must have strong social and communications skills.”
The WSJ article made the case for the importance of continuing to offer a liberal arts curriculum to students. The author makes the critical point that liberal arts and STEM needn’t be an “either/or” proposition. A Forbes.com blog speaks of the many smaller college and universities, such as Rochester Institute of Technology, which have created cross-disciplinary or integrated curriculums, that require STEM students to complete a general education program. At the same time, liberal arts schools like Lafayette University are beginning to reform their curriculums to keep them more relevant.
Critics of liberal arts education will make the case that majoring in a liberal arts field doesn’t guarantee a job with high earnings. This is true. No major can guarantee that. However, some of our country’s most successful and well-paid CEOs majored in liberal arts disciplines: Mark Parker, President and CEO of Nike (political science), Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks (communications) and Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company (television and radio)
One of the tenets of a liberal arts education is practicing critical thinking. According to the WSJ article “Technical and business skills can get graduates in the door, but an ability to think critically and communicate effectively can play an equal, if not larger role in determining success.” It would seem then, that students of all majors would benefit from a mix of courses that are STEM based and liberal arts based.
I would love to hear your opinions on this—please let me know how you are advising your liberal arts majors in their career searches.