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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The pros of a liberal arts education

Published: October 5, 2012
Section: Opinions

From its earliest roots a liberal arts education was one tied to learning for learning’s sake, but today financial concerns come to mind when examining these private institutions. Loans and college have become two words tied together by the rising cost of higher education. Where can the line be drawn between value of school and its increasing expense?

This is a question that many students and parents are wondering. Amid all of these questions, it is undeniable that even in today’s tumultuous economic climate, a liberal arts education is valuable. Whether graduates are employed immediately after they graduate or several years later, the critical thinking, writing and communication skills they leave with are priceless.

It is not only private universities that are becoming more expensive. Public state institutions are also facing burgeoning prices. USA Today states that the average tuition at a four-year public university climbed 15 percent between 2008 and 2010. Private schools and liberal arts schools in particular, are more expensive than most state schools. Rising university tuitions are forcing the 3 percent of students who graduate with liberal arts degrees to evaluate the worth of their education. While the college system itself is in a jumble of economic mess that is in dire need of fixing, what matters is the quality of education that liberal arts institutions provide. Liberal arts universities and colleges impart skills that are hard to come by in regular state schools or public institutions.

A liberal arts degree, however, can be a risky investment. Brandeis is getting more expensive, requiring larger loans for which to be paid many years after graduation, all the while with the uncertainty of a well-paid career. It is a risk worth taking though, because in addition to a broad information base, a liberal arts education gives you those skills necessary to be competitive: skills like leadership, communication, self-confidence, the ability to adapt and most importantly exposure to global thinking. It gives you a broad academic footprint, helping you deal with life’s challenges as an adult. Huge lecture classes, inaccessible professors and feeling like you are just a number are not issues for students at Brandeis. We can all make an impact in the classroom and in our community, and feel that we have caring professors.

In our current economic situation, where employment rate for graduates is low, the best thing that students can have is a wide range of skill sets and understanding of various fields. Rather than limiting oneself to a very specific field, liberal arts schools encourage students to take a variety of courses. This well-rounded approach is well-suited to the general trend of numerous career changes. It also adapts well to an economy where flexibility of skills and knowledge are needed. Leaders are developed in small universities where students can see their involvement on campus make a difference. If we don’t have the leadership skills that small schools foster, how are we ever going to deal with challenges like our current economy and rising college prices?

Youth today know that a college education is absolutely necessary in gaining well-paid future employment. According to the United States Census Bureau, the average annual income of a graduate with a Bachelor’s degree is $52,200 versus $30,400 for a high school graduate. At the same time, students are aware that upon receiving their hard-earned diplomas, they will have to pay-off loans for years in an economy where it is challenging to find employment. The Associated Press states that 53 percent of college graduates are either unemployed or working in a job that does not require a bachelor’s degree. A rising number of students opt for graduate school in which unique schools like Brandeis, with a large research component in addition to the liberal arts teachings, prove to be a huge asset.

From the outside, it seems to be a catch-22 where students are forced into higher learning but then stuck with the high price of receiving an education. Despite that, a liberal arts education is the best investment one can make in this economy. Liberal arts graduates, on the whole, are very satisfied with the education they received. According to USA Today, 77 percent of the Annapolis Group alumni, graduates of 130 liberal arts schools in the U.S., rate the experience as excellent, and 18 percent rate it as good. The worth of a liberal arts education cannot be measured through cost. All colleges and universities today are expensive, but it would be a better use of time to compare schools based on the knowledge and skills with which students graduate.

I recognize that the total debt of students is now over a trillion dollars. This needs to be fixed before it becomes the next out-of-control economic problem. But in the meantime, we need to keep in mind what’s priceless: a good comprehensive education that prepares us for the future.