I started down the path of considering a liberal arts education at a liberal arts college for our son, because I was questioning the value of chasing the grades of top 10%, and was worried about my kids’ chances of getting into a “competitive” (read “good” or “well-ranked”) college if they didn’t join that race. (This turned out not to be true. You can get into a good college without a high class ranking.) One alternative is to attend a small liberal arts college instead of a large research university.
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The benefits of small liberal arts colleges
An emphasis on teaching
After more fully understanding the differences between “research universities,” most prestigious and large state schools, and “colleges,” small liberal arts colleges, I could see the benefits of attending a college that emphasized teaching undergraduates over research. When you apply to college after high school, you would – obviously – be an undergraduate learning in class. While a few upper classmen may do research, most of the research is done by graduate students.
An emphasis on graduate results instead of incoming qualifications
Learning about how colleges rankings worked made me further question the value of chasing a high class rank for admittance to a selective university. College rankings have nothing to do with the outcomes of the graduates of the schools.
All of this was enough to overcome some reservations I had about attending a liberal arts college that occurred to me as I read Colleges that Change Lives.
Some limitations of a liberal arts college
Has technology really damaged our ability to think?
- There was a paragraph about how ” Our digital idolatry has cost us focus…” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
This brief assertion, that texting has cost us the ability to contemplate, and that a liberal arts college will reteach that ability, was weak and didn’t convince me that it was true.
Is the form of education created hundreds of years ago the best education today?
- “The ancient Greeks dreamed up the idea of liberal learning. Sons of wealthy families studied such things as logic and astronomy, not trades, as the lower classes did…” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
This sounds like a liberal arts education is designed to teach students how to sit around in think. In other words, a liberal arts education is to train students to pursue an academic life of thought, research, and contemplation. And in fact until more recent history, the only people who went to colleges and universities were those who were going to spend a lifetime in those same colleges and universities. The reality is that today if everyone who went to college was only trained in teaching and research, there wouldn’t be enough jobs for them.
Do college students need to learn how to think, or learn skills they need for a career?
Pope asserts that a liberal arts education also teaches how to be good citizens. I still think that kids should get that by the end of high school, if not middle school. In this century, our kids go to school for so many years that at some point we need to move on from “learning how to think,” to learning skills they can use to earn a living, a career.
However, to refute my thoughts on this, to back up the idea that a liberal education will help with jobs, Pope references a 2009 survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities that claims that the employers surveyed are looking for employees with the skills a liberal arts education teaches (or is supposed to.) At the time, I just read the results of the survey and moved on. I’ve since looked into the survey and find it at best irrelevant and at worst misleading. (I hope to get around to doing a post on that later.)
You will often see hopeful headlines, such as “10 CEOs Who Prove Your Liberal Arts Degree Isn’t Worthless.” But if you read the article, you will instead find out that these “formerly disgruntled liberal arts majors ” who usually found themselves unemployable after graduation, seemed to achieve success despite their degrees, not because of them.
Will a liberal arts education prepare you for a technical career like engineering?
-“Liberal arts…refers to an educational philosophy that embraces the importance of studying core academic subjects, typically comprising the humanities (literature, history, fine arts, languages, religion, and philosophy) and the sciences (natural sciences, math, and social sciences.)” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
This is further explanation of the core philosophy of a liberal arts education. But the result of this is that at most liberal arts colleges there is no computer science, engineering, or architecture. (Not to mention business classes.)
Is a liberal arts education just a repeat continuation of high school?
I again found myself thinking that this sounds more like an extension of high school. Why do we keep insisting that kids need to keep repeating the same subjects? And why do liberal arts colleges fail to acknowledge technology and the importance of learning how to create and manipulate that technology?
However, like I said, in spite of these reservations, there were enough benefits of attending a liberal arts college that we were still considering it. I’ll cover where we ended up in my next post when we looked for a liberal arts college with an engineering or computer science degree.
Other posts in this series about deciding whether a liberal arts college is right for you
- Consider a Liberal Arts College – how to choose a college part 1/5
- Difference between college and university – how to choose a college part 2/5
- College Rankings, the truth about what they really mean – how to choose a college part 3/5
- A liberal arts education, is it really the best? – how to choose a college part 4/5
- Why my son won’t attend a liberal arts college, engineering – how to choose a college Part 5/5