Shedding light on liberal arts degrees

Dear Editor:

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chad Filley’s opinion column. I make a point of reading it whenever I can. I would like to shed some light on his Dec. 12, 2012 column and his reference to baristas having liberal arts degrees.

The liberal arts take a beating from many people. Some people say that today an undergraduate degree is the equivalent to a 1970s high school diploma in value. That is why most private colleges will post the percent of their students that got into graduate school. They use it as an indicator of the school’s quality. The granddaddies of all liberal arts colleges are St. Olaf and Carleton. Their rates of grad school acceptance are in the 90 percent range and that it is math, science, and medical school, not basket weaving.

A liberal arts education is a great tool for getting into graduate school. I have three members of my family with technology undergraduate degrees from the U of Minnesota and even that college is emphasizing liberal arts classes to help their students succeed. They will even tell you that to succeed in science you need to be able to write, adaptable to change, and have people skills taught in liberal arts.

An engineer I worked with use to say, “I may be a scientist, but all my bosses have liberal arts degrees.” A liberal arts degree gives you portable employment skills. It helps you adapt to our changing world and have skills to fit into most work environments whether at a science or arts employer.

I believe the challenge is that people simply get a nondescript undergraduate degree, which makes them a good candidate for a barista job. Today’s employment opportunities are full of jobs that take a higher education degree skill set and not just engineering or math skills. You must be a negotiator, a human resources master, a good listener, articulate, and have teaching skills. Science and Technology schools recognize this. Stanford lets many people into their graduate departments with a strong undergraduate degree from good liberal arts colleges because their students are well rounded and ready to do specific graduate work.

The Sheldon Cooper’s of the world are getting scarce. Stephen Hawking has a liberal arts skills set and was a wonderful teacher.

Sarah Jean Olson