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Is a liberal arts education enough?

Is a liberal arts education enough?

By Staff

Emma Sajsa ’14, a music major from Denver, Colo., hopes to one day work in music education. For her senior comps project, she is shadowing a music teacher in three Knox County schools. She volunteers at Wiggin Street Elementary and worked at a children’s camp this summer.

Still, something may stand between Sajsa and her chosen field: Kenyon doesn’t offer a music education certificate, or an education certificate at all.

“At the end of my freshman year, and [during] the first half of my sophomore year, I thought about going back to Colorado and going to a state school that had a music education program,” Sajsa said.

For years, Kenyon has held firm in its conviction that it should not offer any pre-professional programs. But many peer institutions, including in the Ohio Five, offer curricula in education, journalism, business, engineering and nursing ラ leaving some students asking why Kenyon hasn’t followed suit.

Kenyon’s Present

According to Interim Provost Joe Klesner, much of the answer lies in history. “Historically, we haven’t had [pre-professional programs]. The College has been one of the American liberal arts colleges that is, curricularly, most traditional,” Klesner said. Though Klesner noted that the faculty has expressed interest in recent years about more experiential learning, which can couple hands-on experiences with classroom learning.

“The kinds of programs that would lead to certifications, we haven’t discussed at any length thus far,” Klesner said. “They would require the creation of curricula and the hiring of faculty that would work in those areas. That would require diminishing our traditional liberal arts and sciences focus.”

“I haven’t seen a strong expression of interest or commitment to that from either the faculty or the trustees,” he added.

According to Graduate School and Pre-Professional Advisor Maureen Tobin, Kenyon does have success with extensive pre-professional advising, even if the College does not offer the programs themselves.

Tobin says Kenyon students, in addition to faculty, have not expressed great interest in the College establishing strict pre-professional departments, even though education is the number one choice of career for Kenyon graduates directly after they graduate. Instead, many students explore pre-professional careers through internships and externships, as well as certain postgraduate opportunities.

Students interested in education, for example, may ラ and often do ラ become involved in programs such as Teach for America, or are placed in private and independent schools through recruiting firms like Carney, Sandoe & Associates.

According to Tobin, most Kenyon students have not expressed interest in pursuing a formal teaching certificate in their undergraduate studies.

For students like Sajsa, however, a certification would put them on par with competition in the job market who were able to earn one in college. She has friends at other schools who are also pursuing education, and is aware of what the major entails.

“They have [been] going into classrooms and learning to be a teacher built into their academic day, and it’s a lot more focused on how to be a teacher,” Sajsa said. “For me, I am more focused on getting a rounded, basic knowledge [of] different types of things, and I have to gear my outside activities to learning more about education.”

Peer institutions do have dedicated pre-professional programs, with varying degrees of success. What sets them apart from Kenyon?

Peer Institution Programs

Davidson College, located in the eponymous city in North Carolina, has an educational studies minor.

“There are two focuses: one is to try to provide licensing for students who wish to go into teaching at the K-12 level, and the other is to engage in what they call ムeducational studies,'” said Dr. Pat Sellers, who is the associate dean for curriculum and professor of political science at the College. The latter portion is more theoretical in nature, and focuses on research questions having to do with education.

Currently, however, Davidson has suspended the teacher certification program, intending to revisit the program in the 2015-2016 school year to study “whether student interest warrants the continuation of the licensure or teacher certification option,” according to the College’s website.

Despite this, Sellers still puts faith in pre-professional programs at liberal arts schools.

“I think higher education needs to respond to the growing difficulty [of obtaining post-collegiate employment]. Not be reducing the depth and rigor to the liberal arts programs, but adding more opportunities to the liberal arts,” Sellers said. “There are a lot of things that you can do within a liberal arts framework that allow students to obtain a liberal arts education but develop pre-professional skills.”

At Earlham College, a Quaker institution located in Richmond, Ind., administrators have had success with programs that tie together the liberal arts and professional tracks. They offer minors in journalism, business and nonprofit management and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

“We do have programs like the journalism program that link to more specific vocational pathways, but one of the things in the Center for Integrated Learning is that we have programs like sustainability, health sciences and business ラ experiential enrichment programs that anyone at the College can participate in,” Jay Roberts, the director of Earlham’s Center for Integrated Learning and the college’s associate vice president of academic affairs, said.

Kenyon’s Future

Despite other liberal arts colleges increasingly adopting majors, minors and concentrations seen as pre-professional or vocational, Klesner does not anticipate that Kenyon will adopt any similar programs in the near future.

However, this year the American Studies [Department] launched a track that focuses on education and is geared toward students who intend a career in the field.

“The ナ track [is] for students who want to do things where they would learn about education and get a little more opportunity to get into a classroom setting,” Klesner said, “and I think quite a few Kenyon students take kinds of internships during the summers where they have an opportunity to be in media contexts, whether it’s the broadcast media or print media or other places.”

Tobin said that even without degree programs, she believes Kenyon students are well prepared for the workforce and graduate school.

“We have a lot of success in terms of students ナ getting students into professional programs,” she said.

Klesner echoes this sentiment, and said that he believes the traditional liberal arts curriculum is ultimately the best mode of education for Kenyon students.

“I like to think of the kind of education that we do here is that we are ナ educating young people to be leaders in whatever they do, in whatever organization they land in or what community they land in; that’s rather different than equipping people with a narrow set of skills,” Klesner said.

Although Sajsa will not graduate with a certificate to educate in the state of Ohio this May, she said that she is happy with her choice to attend Kenyon.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m really glad I’m here and I’m glad I decided to stay,” Sajsa said. “When I’m looking at graduate programs that I’m also applying to, it just kind of puts me in an interesting place ラ I wouldn’t say at a disadvantage, necessarily. It’s just different, I guess.”

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