Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

The view from liberal arts colleges

Stanton W. Green
Dean, McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Anthropology, Monmouth University

Stanton W. Green

Where do liberal arts majors find jobs?  “They find them where they are looking for them,” Green said.

He suggests some students are not looking in enough places and said that faculty and administrators can help.  “We need to learn where the jobs are, so we can advise them,” he said.

The majority of the people who get hired in the world are liberal arts graduates, he said. “The liberal arts are all about preparing for careers.”  The challenge for college and universities is to help graduates tell their stories of how a liberal arts education has prepared them for the workplace.

“Employers do not care what you majored in — for the most part.  Tell them what you can do and what you have done.”

When making hiring decisions, HR people are looking for these skills:  reading, writing, speaking, working with data, working effectively as a team member and team leader.  He encourages faculty to consider how what they are assigning matches skills students’ need for jobs.

Martha O’Connell
Director of Colleges that Change Lives, Inc.

Martha O'Connell

As she talks with high school students and their parents, O’Connell tries “to calm the frenzy surrounding the college admissions process.”

She says many students have given over the college search process to their parents, partly because they think they need to know all the answers at the beginning of the search process.  “We need to encourage independent thinking” and get the students to take the lead in finding the right place for them.  “We need to help them move beyond thinking they need to know what they want to be.”

Students don’t need to know what they will be or even what their major will be to select a college.  She suggests other important questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How do I best learn?
  • Why am I going to college?
  • What learning community would be best for me?

She has a simple answer for parents and students who ask if a liberal arts education is worth it for four years?  “This is not about four years. It is about the education of a lifetime.”

Mark W. Roche
Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Professor of German Language and Literature, and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy and former dean of the University of Notre Dame

Mark W. Roche

What concrete steps can we take to make students and employers aware of the skills and abilities that liberal arts students bring to the workplace? Roche says start with the syllabus.

He suggests faculty begin a syllabus “with a paragraph or two on the fascinating questions the course will address,” to demonstrate to students the intrinsic value of what they will learn.

Then, the syllabus should highlight “learning goals for developing formal skills and outcomes” to show the practical value beyond the course. These might be writing making oral presentations, critical-thinking and problem solving, gathering and evaluating data, or working in teams.

“I bring the latest issue of Job Outlook to class and tell my students the skills they need for this class are the same skills they will need in the job market,” Roche said.

— Guest post by Cheryl Walker,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Category: Higher Education, Rethinking Success