Going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the original aim of a liberal arts education was to encourage free citizens to participate in civic life by supplying them with skills of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In medieval times, the study of liberal arts evolved to include arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The modern liberal arts college champions development of the well-rounded human as it allows students to focus on the diverse breadth of arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics.
However, without the perspective of the bigger picture, some students view the liberal arts core negatively. They argue that it prolongs their college career, costing them more tuition money, and challenges them to study subject areas they might not even be interested in. And why should an English major, inclined towards reading and writing, have to take a general education statistics course? What’s the point?
The point is that you will:
- learn to think critically
- be more well-rounded and better prepared for your future
- learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone
As a freshman in college, I enrolled in what I thought was a gen-ed history course. After receiving a 30+ page syllabus, I realized it was really an education course disguised by readings on local history. As neither a history nor education major, I was attracted to the course for three honest reasons: it fulfilled my history requirement, the professor had great reviews, and the class went on field trips. It turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took, despite the fact that I was the only non-education major. It may have been the only time I’ll ever have to write lesson plans and organize field trip activities, but it provided me the opportunity to strengthen my leadership and creative talents, while encouraging me to reflect on how everyone learns differently.
Liberal arts courses fuel students’ curiosity and encourage them to test the waters of where their professional interests might lie. Taking a course outside your designated major forces you to think and approach problems in an all-new way. You will learn to communicate -- remember grammar, rhetoric, and logic? -- and connect with people who are accustomed to different thinking, all while broadening your own knowledge and network. And, just because you studied English doesn’t mean you’ll never need math in your life.
Sure, if students only had to complete X number of business or engineering courses to graduate, they could probably earn a degree in fewer semesters, piling up less student loan debt in the process. However, they would have missed out on what might be their last opportunity to truly explore different academic interests just for the sake of learning.
On top of that, students might be lacking the transferable skill set that would help them succeed in their careers -- the interpersonal, organizational, leadership, and communication abilities often best developed through diversified studies. The list of student benefits of a liberal arts education is rather similar to what employers look for in their new hires. Even talking about your experience of adapting to unfamiliar coursework and learning styles provides great material for a job interview! Losing your security blanket, coloring outside the lines, thinking outside the box, and stepping out of your comfort zone in a class setting is great practice for doing so in the real world.
Whether their focus is in the traditional liberal arts discipline or not, students should be encouraged to broaden their studies and make use of the liberal arts core. With expanded knowledge across disciplines, students will be equipped to better understand and respect opposing viewpoints, assess their own opinions, and make informed decisions. Just like the ancient Greeks and Romans, students will become well-rounded citizens, which will serve them in their personal and professional lives for years to come.