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Old 12-23-2010, 04:21 PM   #1
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Liberal Arts Education.

first of all i never really post in this section and don't know if this is the correct forum, but i 'm looking for a serious discussion so i thought this might be the place for it

as someone with a useless liberal arts major who wants to teach (and is terrified first of the prospects of getting into a good PHD program - not to mention the subsequent job prospects), i'm wondering about people's opinions on the role of college/university education (and to a lesser extent, high school). there seems to be a trend toward college as more of a "vocational" venture - you get a degree so you can get a job. you're business, pre-law, pre-med, or getting a degree that trains you for a career immediately after graduation (like engineering or something - something with significant real-world application outside of teaching). otherwise, you're wasting your time. which makes perfect sense, especially given the price of US college education. few are fortunate enough to afford $40,000 a year just to "enrich their minds." yet as someone who comes from an academically-oriented family, i was kind of taught that's the point of college. and while i realize something like math might be more "useful" or better for my career options, i am not mathematically-minded in the slightest. so...is there still a place for the liberal arts in college? should we still be encouraging students to major in these subjects when job prospects are so slim? should we value learning for the sake of learning?

my bias in this argument is clear - i found something i love (or at least, am not as bored by compared to everything else ), so i went for it, though i'm definitely beginning to wonder if switching from pre-med to dead language was such a great idea. in fact, i think it was a terrible idea. but at the same time, i feel i am an academically-minded person, not a doctor. i'm a thinker, not a doer. i was raised to value highly intelligence and knowledge, and i don't think intellectual pursuits should be considered "useless." i suppose i have a romantic view of a human spirit enriched by reading and learning (not to sound pretentious - like any college student i spend most of my time just drinking beer and watching The Office or noodling on my guitar or what have you, not reading Pynchon and debating philosophy). obviously i understand there are many more "important" jobs in society, but teachers and professors have been an extremely powerful and positive influence on me, and i don't think they should be undervalued. but i understand the other side - it's hard to justify the existence of any field that is only perpetuated by telling other people that it does in fact exist. so of course funding for these fields gets cut in tough economic climates.

what are your thoughts?
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Old 12-23-2010, 10:26 PM   #2
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The Value of a Liberal Arts Education | Richmond Times-Dispatch
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Old 12-23-2010, 11:24 PM   #3
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I don't think there's anything really new to bring to the table. College is a different value proposition for every student.

I know people with Anthropology degrees, seemingly more toward the "not useful" side of the scale, and they have been able to go do field work in South America or Central America and are generally very interesting people. I know people who studied Finance, have much better jobs, and are generally not very interesting at parties.

For some people, college can be a mind-opening experience, but I think you have to have that curiosity outside of school; it won't provide you that innate ability to want to go out and consume new information about things you don't know.

As an aside, I think the whole tenure-track system is antiquated, and provides for lazy professors more than it provides for the freedom to teach and do research with an assured position. That will have to change in the 21st century, just as the U.S. will have to come to grips with getting its shitty primary and secondary education on track.
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Old 12-23-2010, 11:42 PM   #4
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Old 12-24-2010, 12:20 AM   #5
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Old 12-24-2010, 12:54 AM   #6
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I still think that the point of a college education (at the bachelor level anyway) is to teach you to think critically. This can then be applied to any number of fields.

I studied what interested me for 4 years, and I went to law school later. There is nothing worse to me that this idiotic idea of pre-law. I don't even know what it really means, and I don't think that following that path straight into law school will make you any better of a law student, nevermind a lawyer.

Can't speak for other tracks like pre-med, perhaps they are more useful.
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Old 12-24-2010, 01:57 AM   #7
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yeah, that's pretty much how i feel about it.
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:54 PM   #8
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I still think that the point of a college education (at the bachelor level anyway) is to teach you to think critically. This can then be applied to any number of fields.

I studied what interested me for 4 years, and I went to law school later. There is nothing worse to me that this idiotic idea of pre-law. I don't even know what it really means, and I don't think that following that path straight into law school will make you any better of a law student, nevermind a lawyer.

Can't speak for other tracks like pre-med, perhaps they are more useful.
I have a friend in pre-med, it's quite useful to get that background in biology and the like.
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Old 12-25-2010, 12:32 AM   #9
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I attended and now work full time for a small liberal arts college.

I strongly agree with Martina that at least where I work, being "pre-law" means nothing as far as actually going to law school. First off, I believe we don't currently have any professors that have actually practiced law so it's a tad ironic we have this "pre-law" program with a pre-law advisor that is a political science professor. There's no reason to get a BA in political science or international affairs unless that's really what interests you; it offers no advantage as far as going to law school and actually practicing law. In fact I think students are much more marketable later on with a degree in something else, especially foreign languages. Or, I know a very successful medical malpractice attorney that got a BS in biology, then a masters in physiology. Those things were originally what really interested him and gave him a "niche" as far as practicing law. My cousin is "pre-law" and my uncle is pushing him into taking all the poli sci and int'l affairs courses while I'm encouraging him to keep studying the languages that he likes and already studied through high school.

I think that in certain fields people do not recognize the importance of networking and other opportunities that a college/university offers outside of class lectures and homework. I have a BA in business communications. Obviously this is not a field with a lot of specific technical skills like nursing or engineering. The importance of going through this program for me was not just getting good marks and doing my schoolwork but taking advantage of other opportunities that go with the business program, like getting internships, having dinners with local business owners, job fairs, etc. The degree itself is fairly meaningless but the process of getting it is where people can either take advantage of whatever opportunities their college/program offers or just do whatever schoolwork is required to graduate.

I'm not sure about other liberal arts colleges but where I work, this term actually refers more to the required "core curriculum" than the BA/BS programs offered. I had to take about 2.5 years worth of classes that are required of every student at the college regardless of major/program. This aspect of the liberal arts college I do sometimes take issue with. Some of my core courses were interesting and valuable to me but others were a total waste of time and money (and often I skipped them to put in more hours at work). For example, I was required to take three different PE classes in order to graduate even though I was in the business program and didn't play any sports. I had to take a biology and chemistry lecture plus a lab for both though I was not majoring in a science and most of what we did was repetitive from high school (where I took science, math, and a foreign language for four straight years but was still required to take science and math in college). Unfortunately, there were a lot of core courses that were repeating what I took in high school, and the college courses were some times dumbed down from what I took in high school. The core curriculum is what comes to mind when I hear "liberal arts".
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Old 12-25-2010, 03:10 AM   #10
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I went to a liberal arts college and majored in chemistry. Going to a liberal arts college didn't do a thing for my career aspects.

Do you think a hiring manager at a chemical plant will care that you studied humanities? Don't think so.

Looking back, I feel like I wasted my time and money.
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Old 12-25-2010, 08:33 PM   #11
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The core curriculum is what comes to mind when I hear "liberal arts".
i too am skeptical of the idea of having a core curriculum (and that's not what i was talking about when i started this thread). i do think it's good for one to have some breadth in their college education, but as you pointed out, that's kind of what high school is for. seems silly to have to pay for classes you don't have any interest in and/or are not relevant to what you want to do with your life. Brown University has no core requirements, which i think is awesome. interestingly, most students end up fulfilling what is considered a standard core curriculum, despite not being required to do so.
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Old 12-25-2010, 09:24 PM   #12
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Do you think a hiring manager at a chemical plant will care that you studied humanities? Don't think so.

Looking back, I feel like I wasted my time and money.
This shit right here.

Not having a core curriculum definitely opens up more time to slot in a minor degree that could at least compliment one's major studies.
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Old 12-25-2010, 10:33 PM   #13
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Brown University has no core requirements, which i think is awesome. interestingly, most students end up fulfilling what is considered a standard core curriculum, despite not being required to do so.
I probably would have come close, but I had more of a "liberal arts" degree anyway, and my program did not have as many credit requirements specific to the program as a lot of other majors. The students that are in, say, the education program often go to school longer b/c of the core requirement. For example, our special ed program requires a full semester aiding and a full semester student teaching in both a gen ed and special ed classroom, so that's two full years just doing the aiding and student teaching requirements. Those students have to do an extra semester if they cram in their core, or more likely they are fifth year super seniors. Definitely a waste of time/money when it costs over $25K/yr to attend and you already know you're going into special ed so additional PE, 100-level chemistry, etc is really not relevant at all.
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Old 12-27-2010, 12:08 AM   #14
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Liberal Arts degrees were great in the past. But, it is a new job market. Decide what you want and take only the courses required. It will get at least into entry level. Becuase no one wants to train the respective employee.
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Old 12-27-2010, 12:55 AM   #15
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I still think that the point of a college education (at the bachelor level anyway) is to teach you to think critically. This can then be applied to any number of fields.
I agree 100%, it's still a skill that is hugely lacking in N.A. and unfortunately not valued by far too many groups.
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