As U.S. schools become increasingly career-oriented, many argue that the future of liberal arts schools is in jeopardy. With everyone from our government to our educators emphasizing America’s need for a “better-trained workforce,” more and more students are viewing higher education as an investment in their careers. The result is that more students are enrolling in vocational programs rather than their liberal arts counterparts in hopes that vocational programs will help them earn them higher salaries.
In the year 2000, only 0.6 percent of those pursuing secondary education graduated from liberal arts colleges. While that number may shock you, Victor E. Ferrall, author of Liberal Arts on the Brink, believes it’s because so many leaders and public figures are graduates of liberal arts programs, so it seems like more folks are liberal arts graduates. He believes that so many of our leaders come from liberal arts backgrounds because these schools place such a heavy emphasis on producing inquisitive, concerned citizens who have been trained not necessarily in to gain a useful skill or trade but rather to embrace the act of learning for its own sake.
Pro-liberal arts educators argue that, while it is true that vocational training can prepare you for a particular career, there is a lot to be said about learning how to learn, which is what liberal arts programs emphasize. As technology continues to emerge and change dramatically each year, so will the jobs that need to be filled. Who, then, becomes more of an asset? The vocationally-trained individual who is skilled in one particular area, or the liberal arts grad who has been taught how to think and can therefore adapt to new situations?
Trends certainly come and go when it comes to higher education, and the current trend appears to be toward vocational training. But don’t be too quick to devalue the liberal arts education. Years from now, when your peers have been trained in a particular industry and are tripping over one another to compete for trade-oriented jobs, the liberal arts graduates just may be the ones sitting pretty in the White House.