In “Liberal arts lessons reach beyond the confines of academia,” a Sept. 6 op-ed published in the Collegian, Henry Terhune ’21 argued the merits of a liberal arts education in today’s economy, stating “broad study of human experience and the growth fostered by a liberal arts education are critically important.” This notion of self-improvement as a valuable goal for our liberal arts education is one dripping with privilege. Frankly, self-improvement is garbage. Or rather, the idea that self-improvement should be the goal or focus of our education, and not a mere consequence, is garbage, especially when considering the cost of attending a liberal arts school such as Kenyon.
Certainly, liberal arts students are employable. As the aforementioned article rightly pointed out, liberal arts graduates are valuable due to their “soft skills, problem solving and ability to work with others.” I do not disagree with this. However, I question both the idea that a liberal arts education is the only way to acquire these skills and the notion that these skills alone are sufficient for employment.
My brother, a math major from a large research university, now the CTO of a tech start-up, received many of the same skills that I did from my liberal arts education. He is a problem solver, able to consider not just issues involving mathematics or computer science — both major components of his technical degree — but also able to competently manage over a dozen employees. Similarly, his technical education required collaboration, just as Kenyon does, again aiding him in his ability to work with others.
Of course, I don’t want to use this personal anecdote to dismiss the merits of a liberal arts education, only to suggest that this type of education is not the only way in which to gain these sorts of skills.
I would also like to suggest that these skills alone do not make an employee. The majority of employers request, or even mandate, that future employees have had practical experience prior to hiring. At Kenyon this type of practical experience is gained often during summer internships, but a technical school may offer more comprehensive professional development, allowing students to enter better-paying jobs faster. If you are one of the many students facing a mountain of student loans following graduation, this sort of education has a clear appeal.
As I approach the end of my English degree, I am confident in the fact that Kenyon and our liberal arts system has taught me to be a better, more engaged person, capable of problem solving and critical analysis. However, I cannot ignore the fact that if I had chosen a degree such as engineering, a technical degree not offered in the liberal arts system, my expected post graduate salary might be nearly $20,000 more, according to a 2017 Forbes article. So while I do not want to, nor can I argue that there is no value to a liberal arts education and its lofty, idealistic goal of self-improvement, I do think that value might not be a monetary one. Sure, our liberal arts experience has improved us as people, but has it improved our ability to pay off our student loans?
Hope Giometti ’19 is an English major from Denver, Colo. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.