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College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Liberal Arts, Educated Individuals Offer A Range Of Talent To A Fast-Changing Workplace

By Ed Kanis

With the graduation season upon us, students everywhere will be crossing high school stages to receive their diplomas.

For many, that walk is merely a first step in securing their future through education. Soon, they will be trotting off to colleges near and far to prepare themselves for a world that now seems limitless with possibilities. For some, the unlimited possibilities can be as frightening are they are invigorating.

One critical choice that will confront students is selection of a major course of study. Aside from giving their parents comfort in knowing they have opted for a major—although the likelihood of a change or two is great—students are making a choice that carries immense implications. In their eyes, they are making a major life decision that could predict the success of their careers.

When queried at a local high school career day about what course of study to pursue in hopes of preparing for a lifelong career, Ron Crouch, director of the Kentucky Data Center, reminded his audience that there simply is no skill or program a student can learn for life. That fact is reinforced if you put your faith in the futurists who believe 90 percent of the knowledge available to us in the year 2020 does not yet exist. Clearly, this situation calls for adaptability and the capacity for lifelong learning, two hallmarks of a liberal arts education.

Today's employees face a work scenario that in all probability will entail multiple job (and even career) changes as technology makes traditional ways of doing things obsolete. A student armed with a solid foundation in the liberal arts is equipped to thrive in this environment. Rather than train for a specific job—one that very well may not exist in the years ahead—students educated in the liberal arts are prepared to adapt to new environments, to think analytically and conceptually, to integrate broad ranges of experiences, and to assume leadership roles.

While liberal arts graduates often obtain lower entry-level jobs in many industries, they tend to outdistance their peers in the long haul. The executive suites of businesses and organizations nationwide are populated by a disproportionately large number of men and women educated in the liberal arts.

Ian Rolland, former chief executive officer of the Lincoln National Corp. stressed in an interview in Personnel Journal that "specialists function very well in early years of their employment, but as they advance into management, unless they make a conscious effort to broaden themselves, their narrow view of the world often becomes a limiting factor in their development."

Businesses large and small thrive on employees with talent, commitment and the ability to learn. They need people who can read and write well. They need men and women who can recognize, define and analyze a problem, who can research and synthesize solutions, and who can present and evaluate the results effectively.

Those are the talents individuals educated in the liberal arts bring to the table, skills that will only increase in worth as the pace of workplace change escalates.

This piece was prepared for Dr. Robert Gervasi, dean of McKendree College (Kentucky campuses) and ran in Business First, June 4, 1999.

The author has served as an instructor, administrator and consultant for several institutions of higher education in Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia and New Jersey.