Will liberal arts majors inherit the world?

A strong argument … but the data contradicts.

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One of my summer reads is a book called “The fuzzy and the techie” by Scott Hartley –formerly of Google & Facebook, now a venture capitalist.

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Hartley’s basic premise is that, almost by definition, liberal arts majors acquire fundamental thinking and communication skills, such as critical thinking, logical argumentation, and complex problem solving.

Sounds good, but here’s the rub …

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Employers don’t seem to agree.

Based on a recent study by Hart Research, only about 1 in 4 employers agree that recent college graduates (mostly liberal arts degree holders) demonstrate proficiency in any of those skills.

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Why the disconnect?

Hartley argues that:

One of the hallmarks of liberal arts education is that students are encouraged, if not required, to study a broad range of subjects, through a core curriculum that all students must take, or more commonly through taking a number of electives that complement their work in their major.

Specialization is a feature of graduate education in the liberal arts disciplines, not of undergraduate studies.

An irony about this criticism is that it is actually in the STEM fields that specialization is more of a problem, with the course loads for many degrees leaving little room for wider-ranging pursuit of intellectual passions or simple curiosities.

Hmm.

That was true in my days at Princeton and may have been true in Mr. Hartley’s days at Stanford.

But, those were the good old days.

According to Forbes:

At one time, it was common for colleges and universities to have a core curriculum for all students – courses that were thought to provide the foundation of a well-rounded education.

For decades, however, universities have been sliding away from such curricula.

The proof comes from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) report that concludes “very few universities have curricular requirements that come close to ensuring that their students receive a solid general education.”

In ACTA’s analysis, colleges ought to cover seven areas in their general education requirements:

English composition, literature, foreign language, economics, college-level mathematics, and natural or physical science.

Schools whose core or general education requirements included six or seven receive A grades; those that covered four or five received a B; those covering only three received a C; those covering only two received a D; and those covering one or none of those subjects received an F.

The results: Just 2 percent of the schools studied merited an A, 36 percent a B, 31 percent a C, 23 percent a D, and 8 percent an F.

The bottom line: These days, there’s decidedly more emphasis on “liberal” than on “arts”.

Fewer students are required to take the rigorous courses required to develop practical skills in critical thinking, logical argumentation, and complex problem solving.

And, it looks like employers have already sniffed this dynamic out …

Uh-oh

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