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Why the Liberal Studies Major?

Business executives care more about their new hires’ thinking, communication and problem-solving skills than they do about their undergraduate majors, according to a survey released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Entitled “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” the report features responses from employers.

According to the survey, the economic downturn has “put a premium on college graduates who are really multifaceted…people who have broad knowledge and skills as well as field-specific skills. Narrow technical skills have a shorter and shorter lifespan, and a lot of employers are aware of that. Employers want evidence that graduates have some aptitude in field-specific skills, but what’s more important to them is broad, cross-cutting capacity.” 

Another important criterion for employers is that graduates demonstrate practical experience applying what they have learned. An internship (practicum) is “one of the best experiences a student can have on one’s resume to demonstrate that they have the knowledge, and that they have the experience putting the knowledge to use in real-world settings.”  

The LEAP Employer-Educator Compact is a statement from educational and business leaders about making high-quality learning a national priority as employers seek college graduates with a broader set of skills and knowledge to fuel our innovation-driven economy.  (For information on the LEAP Employer-Educator compact see http://www.aacu.org/leap/presidentstrust/compact) They concluded:

High-Quality Learning Involves More than a Major:  Above and beyond what students learn in their disciplinary fields, a high-quality college education for the 21st century also should emphasize

  • Broad Learning about science, society, technology, human diversity, and global cultures and interdependence;
  • Intellectual Skills that support evidence-based reasoning and innovation – including analysis, communication, critical and creative thinking, quantitative fluency, information literacy, and collaborative problem solving;
  • Personal and Social Responsibility, including ethical reasoning, civic and democratic knowledge and engagement, global acumen, and the capacity to work productively with diverse people and perspectives;
  • Integrative and Adaptive Learning, including the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to complex problems and new settings. 

The high-quality learning we seek is best described as a liberal – and liberating – education. In the 21st century, the hallmark capacities of a liberally educated graduate are important in every area of endeavor and indispensable to success in the economy.