After reading the book Colleges that Change Lives, by Loren Pope, we seriously considered the possibilities of a small liberal arts college for our kids instead of a bigger, research university. Along with this came lots of discussions and considerations about the worth of a liberal arts degree. And what is a liberal arts degree anyway?
During one of these discussions my sister, who’s an astrophysicist professor at a university, made this comment.
“You know, Erin, you have a liberal arts degree.”
“Wait. What? Chemistry is a liberal ARTS degree?”
“I think pretty much every degree that isn’t a business or engineering degree is a liberal arts degree.”
Um, yeah, she’s right.
I would feel worse, but lots of people are vague as to what constitutes a liberal arts degree. Why are so many of use confused? I think most of us associate liberal arts degrees with small, private liberal arts colleges.
Because I didn’t get my degree from a small, liberal arts college, I didn’t think of my degree as a liberal arts degree. Besides, there were two types of degrees offered by my department. I didn’t get a BA (Bachelor of Arts Degree) in Chemistry. I got a BS (Bachelor of Science) degree in Chemistry.
I went to a smaller university. When I was there, it had a “teaching track” as well as a “research track” for professors. But it was still a university, not a liberal arts college.
The more we talked about the definition of a liberal arts degree, I realized that at some point when I was in college I may have heard my degree referred to as a liberal arts degree. But at that time that it clearly didn’t mean anything to me. More recently, I somehow started to think of a liberal arts degree as something that might be better described as a humanities degree.
But I still wasn’t too sure that what I had qualified as an “arts” anything degree.
But then my sister came up with the definitive answer.
“You can’t be in Phi Beta Kappa without a liberal arts degree.”
And I’m a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
I remember this because they keep send me letters asking for donations.
I’m starting to sound really cynical here, I know. But Phi Beta Kappa is an honor society, and I started getting cynical about honor societies when one jilted my older sister her senior year. (So I didn’t even apply to that honor society when I was eligible the next year. Ha! I showed them! But it didn’t hurt my graduate school offers, so I suppose it wasn’t too important. In light of the current AP and extracurricular arms race for admission to universities, I find that interesting.)
But Phi Beta Kappa becomes interesting at this point because I went to their website as a source of information on liberal arts degrees.
I’ll talk about that in my next post.
For now, I’ll leave you with the “definitive” definition of a liberal arts degree, from Wikipedia, “…the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational, or technical curriculum.” In other words, any degree that isn’t a business degree, engineering degree, or technical degree is a liberal arts degree.
What about you? Do you have a liberal arts degree, a business degree, or an engineering degree? How easy was your job search when you graduated? You can read about the experiences of several people trying to get a job with an undergraduate science or math degree – which are liberal arts degrees – in my post, You Majored in What?