In defense of the liberal arts education: My B.S. is not B.S.

Randolph Hall in Cistern Yard at CofC, a liberal arts institution. Photo by Alex Mielcarek.

Randolph Hall in Cistern Yard at CofC, a liberal arts institution. Photo by Alex Mielcarek.

Back in the fall of 2014, the national college class of 2019 was faced with one of the hardest decisions they would ever have to make: Where do I want to go to college?

For some, the choice was easy. They could follow in the footsteps of a legacy to keep a family tradition alive, go to the school with the best parties, go somewhere in-state because of high out-of-state tuition costs, or go far away from home to start over.

For one reason or another, we all chose the College of Charleston. We chose the small, southern-style city close to the beach, where the party life is so embedded within the culture that almost every event on campus offers free koozies. We chose a small region that juxtaposes the conservative state where Donald Trump almost won every county in the Republican primary.

College of Charleston distinguishes itself among many schools in the state because of its progressive nature, from gender neutral bathrooms to gender identification on the application form for the school to even granting students in minority-dominated counties automatic acceptance upon certain criteria.

The steps The College has taken make it stand out among the other, larger schools in the state.

As The College of Charleston is a liberal arts school, the core education requirements focus on students taking "a little bit of everything" to immerse themselves in an environment that will give them knowledge that will help them in the real world.

For example, a student who chooses to major in Sociology is only required to take 33 credit hours of Sociology-related course for their bachelor's degree, whereas the general education requirements allow them to take courses beyond their major.

A student could choose to take a Calculus course for their general education requirements, and that same Calculus class may later help them in their sociological research when it comes to the quantitative methods used in the studies.

There are many reports which state that core knowledge of General Education subjects are universally valuable, like how, for example, Statistics and even Calculus could help this Sociology major understand a study's results and their significance.

However, the social sciences majors are not the only ones who reap the benefits of a liberal arts education. Even in the natural sciences like Biology, Chemistry, or Geology, students still take up courses in the social sciences and arts for elective credits which allow them to learn about different societies and cultures.

Students at CofC leave the college with the ability to derive equations, the notion that gender is a performative social construction, and the knowledge of how Rome fell apart into the Byzantine empire.

Despite all of this, many students find themselves at odds with relatives, old friends, and the internet when they are told that their degrees mean nothing, that because they learn so many different things,that they cannot simultaneously be experts in their fields.

They are told their degrees are useless, and are almost always faced with the question of:

"What kind of jobs can you get with that degree?”

One issue is that, in this climate, students are being prepared for jobs in the future that do not currently exist.

As Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. shows, “half of what [students] learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.” This means that students can no longer just memorize information, but instead will be expected to know how to apply their information. This is the beauty of a liberal arts education: students are taught to think in more than one way, to problem-solve, and to take every opportunity to learn.

In the case of the sociologist, they may have to decide whether to use structured, semi-structured, or non-structured interviews for their research.

No one will tell them what is right or what is wrong anymore, as they are now on their own.

In the case of someone who does not go on to do research, they can use the knowledge they learned in their major to help them deal with situations on a local scale, such as how to help students through advising or school counseling.

When a degree encompasses more than the major, students are prepared better for the world.

On the other hand, a liberal arts education might not be the path for every student. There are many students who choose to attend other schools because they want to focus more on just their major and dislike the courses they would take at a liberal arts college.

However, in defense of my own liberal arts education, I have found myself interested in subjects I would have never taken had I attended a more traditional university, classes like calculus, pre-med level Chemistry, and religious studies. These had never been an interest to me, but knowing that I have options to take courses that will still help my degree is what empowers my education and allows me to learn more.

And while the day may never come where I will use integrals and infinite series, the day is already here where I have used the complex problem-solving skills I learned from those courses in my own life, job, and organizations.

Article by Pablo Palacios

Originally Published: 11-7-16