Education Strategies Featured

11:05am EDT February 28, 2006
Making a decision about what type of education to pursue in college can be challenging, and a legitimate question students and their parents often ask is, “How will this help me succeed in the real world?”

While students entering college may not always completely understand how a liberal arts and sciences education will help them on the job, today’s savvy employers appreciate the skills students gain while pursing a liberal arts and science education, says Alan deCourcy, associate academic dean for graduate studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

“Today’s employers are specifically looking for skills that are emphasized in the liberal arts education, including critical thinking, communication and the ability to integrate information,” he says.

A liberal arts and sciences background lays the perfect foundation for any course of study, says deCourcy. Students gain important skills and knowledge that they can apply to any job, making them a valuable addition to any workplace.

Smart Business spoke with deCourcy about the benefits of a liberal arts and sciences education, the kinds of skills students can expect to learn and why these skills are so important to employers.

Why study the liberal arts and sciences?
That’s a question that gets a lot of attention in academic circles these days for a number of reasons. Liberal arts attempts to educate the whole person, not so much for a career but for living a meaningful life. It provides students with both the skills and the knowledge that will help them in that journey.

What benefits does this course of study have over other areas?
The liberal arts can be a foundation for all courses of study, whether someone pursues a specific discipline or a profession. Regardless of a student’s chosen field, one still needs the basis of the liberal arts and sciences.

Certainly other areas of education can teach some of these basic skills, but the difference is really in the degree of focus. Liberal arts gives students a group of skills that will enhance their ability and functioning in any area of study a student might undertake.

What skills are developed through the liberal arts and sciences?
Students pursuing a liberal arts education can expect to learn critical thinking and effective communication, and will develop a capacity for integrating knowledge and information, which is critical in today’s world. Additionally, liberal arts seeks to expand students’ knowledge of other cultures. Perhaps most important, liberal arts education develops values and helps build an ethical orientation.

I also think the interdependent nature of knowledge in our world today — emphasizing that we are all connected — is an important aspect of a liberal arts education. We can no longer think only in terms of local citizenship, but also in terms of global citizenship. This is done by learning and understanding not only one’s own culture and personal biases but also by developing empathy with those whose lives may differ significantly from our own.

How do these skills translate to the corporate world?
In today’s workplace, there’s an increased emphasis on technology and how to assimilate and assess information, as well as a heightened awareness of the importance of diversity and multiculturalism. There are obviously also some significant questions about values and ethics in the business world, and there’s also a real need for leadership. My sense is employers are more appreciative of an education that will not just turn out someone who knows a field but who can function in that field as a leader.

Why do employers want employees with a liberal arts degree?
Liberal arts teaches people to think. Students learn to not just robotically give back information, but they learn to process information and become critical thinkers. Employers are looking for people who have learned to communicate ideas, both verbally and in writing, which is emphasized in a liberal arts education. And, following workplace trends, today’s liberal arts education puts a lot of focus on learning with others and how to work in a team environment.

What kinds of jobs are available for liberal arts and sciences students?
There are a variety of things a liberal arts graduate will be equipped to do. A liberal arts and sciences education prepares students for any job. The kinds of skills acquired through the liberal arts and sciences background make a great foundation for whatever profession a student pursues.

Alan deCourcy, D.Min., is associate academic dean for graduate studies and associate professor of religious studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph. DeCourcy oversees curriculum for master’s degree programs and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. He is also a past director of the Mount’s honors program. Reach him at (513) 244-4487 or alan_decourcy@mail.msj.edu.