The Importance of Liberal Arts Education: In a Knowledge-Based Economy

Historically, in the United States, there has always exist a tension in higher education between the education of the person and the achievement of specific and pragmatic objectives. Liberal arts colleges in the United States have traditionally tilted the balance in favor of educating the whole person. Character building was viewed as equal in importance to intellectual development. The core of the liberal arts experience is a commitment to the excitement of learning.While affirming the enduring value of a liberal arts education, we must also be responsive to the technological and social changes taking place around us. We must be responsive to the social, political, and economic needs of our community, state, nation, and the evolving global society. However, our most effective response should be our passionate desire to learn more about these needs and how society can most effectively respond to them.We need to be mindful of the economic imperative that change requires investment. An enormous investment is currently being made in communication and information processing technology. Contemporary society urgently needs to adapt to the intended and unintended consequences of that technological investment.During the past three decades, the work place has changed more dramatically than any other time in the history of the United States. Today, the ability to create new knowledge is quickly over shadowing the importance of manufacturing goods and services.As the world continues to become more complex, more technological, and more competitive one issue that flows from the literature on higher education is the increasing need for an educated workforce that can meet the needs of a global economy.A recent Department of Labor report projected that eighty percent of the children beginning kindergarten will eventually enter jobs that doesn’t even exist today. If work continues to change as radically as it has in the recent past, than the question is: How do we prepare today’s students to enter the workforce and become productive citizens?It’s obvious to many of us that we are witnessing radical changes in the entry-level skills required for jobs as they evolve toward higher-level skills, especially the skills of analytical thinking, problem solving, communication, computation, and working in teams. To be successful in the workplace of the future, individuals will need more than technical training.A recent report, issued by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America Promise (LEAP), indicated that two-thirds of employers say college graduates lack essential skills to succeed in today’s global economy.The report goes on to say that: College graduates will need more cross-disciplinary knowledge and an advanced set of communication and analytical skills to apply that knowledge to real-world problems. It also urges a more thorough application of liberal education in American colleges and universities.A liberal arts education will remain the most practical preparation for lifelong employment because it promotes intellectual and personal growth; and it equips the individual to cope with change by being able to adapt to the workplace as it continues to transform.”The quality of learning, not the possession of a diploma, will determine whether the next generation can keep our economy and democracy strong,” says Association of American Colleges and Universities President Carol G. Schneider. Ms. Schneider goes on to say “It’s time to stop channeling students into narrow tracks that prepare them for an initial job but not for tomorrow’s challenges.”We should agree, however, that the term “liberal arts education” has a fuzzy meaning for many people. For some, it means many required classes that get in the way of technical training, which some people feel is the only way to prepare for a job. Upon closer observation, however, liberal arts education can be understood as the key to survival in any field that subject to change over time.It’s true, technical training might give one the “foot in the door” as an entry into the workforce, but a liberal arts education will provide the staying power, serve as a foundation for continuous growth and development; and lead to professional success we all set our sight on.Today, more than ever, undergraduate students are trying to make a connection between subject and content in the educational marketplace. What students seem to value most is the ability to translate their undergraduate education into better employment opportunities.For most students, perceived or future success depends on professional preparation in areas such as law, medicine, or business. The fact that the liberal arts are at the root of such disciplines is often lost on today’s career minded students. As a result, students are less inclined to major in the liberal arts.ConclusionThe shift in the economy from a manufacturing base to one with a knowledge foundation is having an impact on higher education in significant ways. More importantly, the basic goals and purposes of higher education seem to be in flux. However, one constant remains true today colleges and universities can no longer afford to graduate students ill-prepared for a persistently changing workplace and a global economy.

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