What is Liberal Studies?
What is Liberal Studies?
An education in liberal studies is learning for life, work and citizenship. Liberal studies is not a one-size-fits-all curriculum, but a combination of many different programs of study. It provides broad views of the world to help students fully develop their individual capabilities and contributions.
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities 1: “Liberal education is a philosophy of education that empowers individuals, liberates the mind from ignorance and cultivates social responsibility.”
“A liberal studies degree is an investment not only in education, but in your future.”
Earle Douglass (’12)
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Why a Liberal Studies Degree?
So, why choose an education in liberal studies? Or, more to the point, why a liberal studies degree versus a more specialized course of study grounded in a specific vocation or business practice?
For passionate students and proponents of liberal arts, the answer is: Don’t learn a single specialty. Learn the art of inquiry and innovation. Learn to think your way through any problem or challenge that will come your way. Pull from a deeper understanding of past and present human behavior – in all its interconnected complexity.
Liberal Studies: A Business Need
Never in history have core liberal studies skills – reasoning, communications and analysis – been more important, according to business and civic leaders.
“Liberal Arts may ultimately prove to be the most relevant learning model, said Roger Smith, the former chief executive officer of General Motors 2. “People trained in the Liberal Arts learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of apparent confusion. They have the kind of sideways thinking and cross-classifying habit of mind that comes from learning, among other things, the many different ways of looking at literary works, social systems, chemical processes or languages.”
According to David Kearns 3, former chief executive officer of Xerox: “We are reminded that the real challenge of today’s economy is not in making things but in producing creative ideas. Today, the race goes not just to the swift, but to the inventive, the resourceful, the curious. And that is what a liberal education is all about.”
Composed for Lifelong Transitions
Not only are liberal arts skills valuable on the job, they are skills that help professionals navigate through multiple career paths over a lifetime. Today’s workers are likely to face many career transitions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 4:
- Every year, more than a third of the entire U.S. labor force changes jobs.
- Today’s students will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38.
- 50 percent of workers have been with their companies less than five years.
- Every year, more than 30 million Americans are working in jobs that did not exist in the previous quarter.
On the job, according to a study of organizations by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 91 percent of employers say they are asking employees to take on more responsibilities and use a broader set of skills than in the past. In addition, 88 percent say the challenges faced by employees are more complex than they were in the past and the same percentage agreed that employees need higher levels of learning and knowledge than they did in the past 5.
“I believe that education, particularly at the undergraduate level, should help students learn to think, reason and function as members of society,” said Vincent Kiernan, associate dean of the Georgetown University Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program. “Our program teaches students to become lifelong learners so that they know how to acquire the skills they need for whatever it is they’ll be doing next.”
New Ways of Seeing
No matter how much of an expert specialist you become, there will always be challenges you can’t foresee today – challenges that will require a new way of seeing, thinking and doing.
“Virtually all occupational endeavors require a working appreciation of the historical, cultural, ethical and global environments that surround the application of skilled work,” writes Roberts T. Jones, president of Education and Workforce Policy, LLC, in Liberal Education 6. “As knowledge, technology and global impacts escalate at dizzying rates, so too will the value and significance of the liberal education framework increase.”
A liberal studies program provides students with lenses and tools they need to constantly acquire new insights and skills. As a result, no matter where they are in their lives, students with a liberal arts background have the capabilities to pursue passions, become informed leaders and cope with change.
Flexibility and timelessness. These are the advantages of a liberal studies degree.
1. Humphreys, D., & Davenport, A. (2005). What really matters in college: How students view & value liberal education. Liberal Education, 91(3), 36-43. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/209822650?accountid=11091
4. Carol Geary Schneider. (2010). New Vision, New Designs, New Measures of Success: Preparing Today's Students for the New Global Century. Available: http://www.aacu.org/meetings/gexinstitute/2010/documents/SchneiderGExplenary6152010.pdf. Last accessed 18th June 2012.
5. Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2010). Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views On College Learning In The Wake Of The Economic Downturn. Available: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2009_EmployerSurvey.pdf. Last accessed 18th June 2012.
6. Jones, R. T. (2005). Liberal education for the twenty-first century: Business expectations. Liberal Education, 91(2), 32-37. http://search.proquest.com/docview/209812229?accountid=11091.
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