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  1. #1
    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Liberal arts education

    What are your thoughts about a liberal arts education? What comes to mind? What are your opinions about it as opposed to a more conventional (mainstream might be a better choice of word) education? Would you advise aspiring undergrads to pursue this? I'm just looking for your thoughts.
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    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phantomcow2 View Post
    What are your thoughts about a liberal arts education? What comes to mind? What are your opinions about it as opposed to a more conventional (mainstream might be a better choice of word) education? Would you advise aspiring undergrads to pursue this? I'm just looking for your thoughts.
    When I was a student, I thought they should study what they wanted to. However, if they do that, they will notice a few things when they graduate:
    1. they don't have a skill anyone wants to pay for
    2. no job exists that will let them do what they want
    3. so they get a crummy job where they work their tails off for practically nothing

    Life is 10 times easier if you can do something that not many people can do, you have good communication skills, and you can work with people. If you are lacking in any of those departments, you'll somehow get by, but it's much tougher.

    In short, don't major in liberal arts -- that's the same as choosing nothing. Rather, pursue something tough that scares most people away and make sure you get lots of exposure to liberal arts.

  3. #3
    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Ah, I didn't think of this. I am not asking about majoring in liberal arts -- heck no would I do that, for the reasons you've just outlined! I am talking about attending a liberal arts college -- a different sort of animal than most other schools.
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    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Oh, and I have already selected economics as my major (of course this is subject to change!). I'm not asking this for advice as to what I should do, I'm asking it simply to satisfy my curiosity about what people think about it. I feel like a liberal arts education was underrepresented at my high school during recruitment/fairs/guidance counselors sessions. So, as I've said, I'm just looking to hear thoughts
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    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phantomcow2 View Post
    Ah, I didn't think of this. I am not asking about majoring in liberal arts -- heck no would I do that, for the reasons you've just outlined! I am talking about attending a liberal arts college -- a different sort of animal than most other schools.
    Attending a liberal arts college is a fine idea. There are lots of intangible benefits to a liberal arts education that can help you, and it is worth becoming conversant in long hair subjects. Economics is a practical thing to study, particularly if you are interested in business.

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    Senior Member SwimBike's Avatar
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    Well first off liberal arts are pretty unique. Only 3% of american universities/colleges have liberal arts as their primary focus.

    Liberal arts is focused on lifelong learning. I quote a very famous research on higher education (Alexander Austin)

    "........residential liberal arts colleges in general, and highly selective residential liberal arts colleges in particular, produce a pattern of consistently positive student outcomes not found in any other type of American higher-education institution. . . . . . .they exemplify] much of what has come to be known as best educational practice in undergraduate education. “

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    Senior Member SwimBike's Avatar
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    oh and these "best practices" include:

    • Frequent student-faculty interaction
    • Frequent student-student interaction
    • Generous expenditures on student services
    • A strong faculty emphasis on diversity
    • Frequent [enrollment by students in] interdisciplinary and humanities courses . .
    • Frequent use of courses that emphasize writing
    • Frequent use of narrative evaluations
    • Infrequent use of multiple-choice exams
    • Frequent involvement of students in independent research
    • Frequent involvement of students in faculty research

    and I can cite sources if you want :-P

  8. #8
    surly old man jgedwa's Avatar
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    Hmmm, I could certainly be accused of a bias on this issue, but I have to take umbrage at a couple of points:

    -nothing is more "conventional" than a liberal arts education. The rest are all new on the block. Not that it matters, but still.

    -"Long hair subjects". Ouch. Not fair.

    -There are lots of careers that obviously require specific training. In order to be an engineer, it is a good idea to get an engineering degree. Maybe nursing school would be helpful in landing a job as a nurse. Plenty of such examples where a specific degree is a necessity. And it should be. But, there are lots of careers where specific subject matter in school is more loosely tied. If you want to be able to show future employers that you can think and read and write and talk, then being liberally educated is a pretty good idea.

    -Not to dismiss vocational issues, but there are also non-vocational issues to consider here. Might be good for all of us to sometimes stop and reflect on what it is to be human in this world. Maybe, to some small extent, navigating a liberal arts curriculum helps with this.

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    surly old man jgedwa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwimBike View Post
    Well first off liberal arts are pretty unique. Only 3% of american universities/colleges have liberal arts as their primary focus.
    I am pretty familiar with the American college/university scene, and this number seems way off. I would have guessed something like 20-50%.

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    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jgedwa View Post
    I am pretty familiar with the American college/university scene, and this number seems way off. I would have guessed something like 20-50%.

    jim
    Actually, I think think that figure is closer to correct than yours. I would have guessed about 7%
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    Senior Member SwimBike's Avatar
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    Note primary focus. Plus this is including community college, 2 years schools, vocational, and technical schools. Many universities have a liberal arts schools within them however liberal arts is not the primary focus.

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    surly old man jgedwa's Avatar
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    Well, I don't have the data in front of me. It might depend on how it was reckoned. If you mean the number of institutions that claim in their mission statement to be committed to LA, then I bet I win by a large margin.

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  13. #13
    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Oh, but I got into some long discussions with an admissions person at a radically liberal arts college. I estimated that no more than 5% of my graduating high school class chose to attend or even apply to a liberal arts school, and he said that is well above the national average.
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  14. #14
    Splicer of Molecules Nickel's Avatar
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    Liberal arts teach you how to think about the world.


    There is no problem with majoring in the liberal arts if that is what you want to pursue, but you have to be aware that you will have to pursue the MS and PhD if you want a chance to do what you want. The simple issue with the degree is not that it isn't 'practical' or whatever, but the supply has way flooded the demand pool. You are starting to see this in the sciences as well.

  15. #15
    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    "A 1998 study found that even though only 3 percent of American college graduates were educated at a residential liberal arts college" Taken from http://www.collegenews.org/topliberalartscolleges.xml

    Granted, they don't cite the actual study.


    Edit: "There are 228 liberal arts institutions, which comprise 15.4 percent of all colleges and universities in the United States." Taken from http://www.answers.com/topic/liberal-arts-college
    Touché, sir; you were much closer than I had guessed (assuming we take this one as gospel).
    Last edited by phantomcow2; 07-13-08 at 09:50 PM.
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    Senior Member SwimBike's Avatar
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    My reference was from a speech I heard last year from someone on the Board of the Assoc. of American Colleges and Universities.

    Been trying to find a text version of the speech but no luck

  17. #17
    la vache fantôme phantomcow2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwimBike View Post
    My reference was from a speech I heard last year from someone on the Board of the Assoc. of American Colleges and Universities.

    Been trying to find a text version of the speech but no luck
    Could they have been saying that 3% of Americans attend a residential liberal arts college? Since these schools are generally much smaller than their more conventional brethren, it would stand to reason that 15.4% of schools might be liberal arts.
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  18. #18
    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jgedwa View Post
    If you want to be able to show future employers that you can think and read and write and talk, then being liberally educated is a pretty good idea.
    I would take that a bit further and say that it is essential. Being educated is not about going through some process where the end result is a degree, it is about giving yourself the tools to help you learn for the rest of your life.

    The market is very competitive. When we hire technical people, we expect them to have excellent reading, writing, analytic, and social skills.

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    Senior Member SwimBike's Avatar
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    I think the percentage difference might be residential liberal arts colleges?? Maybe? Who knows. Either way it isn't really the main point :-P

  20. #20
    surly old man jgedwa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nickel View Post
    be aware that you will have to pursue the MS and PhD if you want a chance to do what you want.
    This is overwhelmingly not the case.

    A Ph.D in most any liberal arts field will qualify you for exactly one job: teaching that field in college.

    A masters in many liberal arts fields will not specifically qualify you for anything. Think of it this way: what doors will be opened by your MA in philosophy that your BA would not have opened?

    There is a seed of truth in what you are writing however: A BA in a lot of LA disciplines does not open up a specific and obvious vocational path leading out from college. This is a real issue, and students should think about it. It is mitigated, somewhat, by the fact that a lot of people are not too sure what they want out of a career even when they are finished with college, and so the post-college fumbling around happens to coincide with the time they are figuring out some sort of idea of what they want in a career. To be clear, I am not recommending to anyone's kids that they wait until they are 23 before they have some idea of how they want to live. But, people are complicated, and people do change, and so having an education that cultivates that complexity and those changes is not a bad idea for a lot of people.

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    I am a product of and fan of landgrant institutions (ie *so* not liberal arts) but I have had some exposure to small liberal arts schools and am coming around to appreciate the extent to which can produce an outstanding experience and train the mindset for future development.

  22. #22
    Splicer of Molecules Nickel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jgedwa View Post
    This is overwhelmingly not the case.
    Yes, sorry I was blindly considering only academic positions! I know there is a hierarchy of what you can and can't do in the sciences with the various levels and wasn't sure if that was the case with the LA degrees.

  23. #23
    fishologist cohophysh's Avatar
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    I say go for it. I attended a liberal arts college (probably the one hardyweinberg is referring to) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and education. I have a great job using the skills I learned from the liberal arts college. In fact, I enjoyed the education so much as an undergraduate, I went back to grad school at the same college!

    Good luck
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  24. #24
    Senior Member skiahh's Avatar
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    I attended a liberal arts college and got a BA in Government. Did it specifically train me for anything? Maybe a couple of jobs in government, but, no, not really. I could have gone many directions with it including sales (many people did this), marketing, research, business. whatever.

    I opted for a commission in the Navy. A degree - bachelor's degree of any flavor, but tech preferred - is the ticket to a commission. They trained me in my warfare specialty (aviation, electronic warfare). Ironic because it was a 2 year process and I had opted out of applying to Law School because I wanted out of school for a while! Anyway, I've subsequently received a Masters and have many options available when I retire. I think I will teach, though, which means I need another degree or at least certification.

    Anyway, a liberal arts education will prepare you for many things that a single focus vocational type degree won't.
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    The quieter you become... Falkon's Avatar
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    I'd get a liberal arts degree if I wanted to go into the Navy as an officer. Otherwise, it's not worth anything to me unless it's a PhD
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