The Lasting Value of the Liberal ArtsEvan Duff | President, North Carolina Wesleyan College
With unemployment rates soaring, it’s time for liberal arts colleges to prove their worth to the doubtful learners who may not initially look to them for job opportunities. Given the circumstances of a remote environment, many liberal arts faculties have adapted their traditional learning models into innovative and tech savvy pedagogies. This change emphasizes the importance of the liberal arts in getting students the education employers require. In this interview, Evan Duff discusses the lasting value of a liberal arts education, its current state in this pandemic and gives advice about the upcoming recession.
Evan Duff (ED): When students take the step to further their education, regardless of age, a liberal arts education provides them with skills they can immediately apply in their life. It teaches them to think within and across disciplines to attain valuable learning outcomes. This helps them to think critically, communicate effectively, make informed ethical decisions, use technology to their advantage and assess situations through analytical reasoning. As a working adult student myself years ago, I often wondered why I needed to take a music or literature class to attain my business degree.
What I learned and now appreciate is that liberal arts classes help students become more informed citizens of the world. These classes also help prepare students for any number of careers, even those that have not been discovered yet. Learning these types of skills through a liberal arts education is just as important for adult learners as it is for traditional learners.
Evo: What does it take to effectively communicate the long-term value of a liberal-arts education in a recession environment, when people tend to have shorter-term goals?
ED: Facts and research are always good to start with. According to a conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), employers are looking for graduates who can bring innovation into the workplace, solve complex problems, communicate clearly and use evidence-based analyses to make their decisions. All of these skills are cornerstones of a liberal arts education that will prepare graduates to meet current and future employer needs.
Also, the AACU and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems researched and published “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” a report demonstrating that liberal arts and sciences majors earn more money over their careers than other college majors. This is not to say that all adult learners should only major in the humanities or sciences, but it certainly provides evidence as to why general education courses are important to all majors and that adult learners should value the learning outcomes in these classes.
ED: Based only on anecdotal information, I feel the pandemic may actually improve the delivery of liberal arts programming. Most faculty across the country were forced to utilize technology and remote learning pedagogies to finish the spring semester. This mandatory change, in many ways, created new pathways for faculty to attain the same learning outcomes that they experienced from traditional lectures. I think you will find that many of these faculty will now some of these pedagogies into their traditional instruction models.
Evo: How can institutions leverage their digital resources to deliver high-quality liberal arts education in a remote learning model?
ED: Institutions can do this in a number of ways. They must support it holistically to include financial resources, instructional support and faculty-led initiatives. Faculty who choose to be innovative and assess their success from these innovations should be rewarded. I have witnessed many faculty members experimenting with the flipped classroom model, creating podcasts with students, establishing student blogs, filming dissections for students working remotely and experimenting with other creative technologies to meet their courses’ learning outcomes. These faculty have all been extremely successful; when they assess the learning outcomes of these compared to those of traditional methods, they are relatively the same.
Evo: What advice can you share to help liberal arts colleges retain their enrollment numbers as we head into this very unique recession?
ED: Colleges–through faculty, staff, administration and boards of trustees–must continue to sell the importance of a liberal arts education supported by research, facts and analysis. While professional majors are important, they are not the only majors that lead to fulfilling and successful careers. Colleges should continuously share what their successful liberal arts alumni are doing. They should involve these alumni in admissions events and marketing, and bring them back to campus to speak to current students. I would also advise these colleges get local organizations involved and have community leaders communicate the skills they are looking for in graduates. Those skills, most of the time, will align with the research conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and that you find in liberal arts programs.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Author Perspective: Administrator