In recent years, there has been a shift away from standard, broad-based general education and towards a specialization in science, technology, engineering, and math, aptly named the STEM subjects. Leading educators have promoted this movement, claiming that an emphasis in the STEM fields will lead to more job opportunities and a greater variability in a student’s career choice later in life.
Along with this change has come a criticism that the stress on STEM subjects has left traditional subjects like English and Social Studies in the dust. More and more students are choosing STEM degrees, believing that these will be more beneficial in their future.
Research has shown that the liberal arts education that so many students are shying away from nowadays can actually be more beneficial to the student in the long run than a degree in a specialized STEM field.
A liberal arts education is one that focuses on the humanities, sciences, and arts and how these three fields influence each other.
The purpose of a liberal arts education is to educate the whole person so that they can be prepared for a wide range of careers.
Studies show that a liberal arts education provides the grounding for many skills necessary in life: creativity, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and sensitivity to a broad range of social, economic, and cultural perspectives.
Employers are increasingly seeking these qualities in order to have a diverse workforce that can easily adapt to any challenges or problems that might arise.
In fact, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, four out of five employers say each college graduate should have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.
Brette Weinkle, a MAST Academy alumnus from the class of 2002, graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida with an English Literature major and Anthropology minor. She uses her liberal arts degree in the workforce every day.
“My job [in admin] requires a high level of organization, exceptionally clear and concise communication, and creative thinking. English was a broad enough degree that I was prepared for almost any office job because I can communicate clearly,” Weinkle said.
Liberal arts majors must encounter the challenge of deciding on a career path after they graduate.
Whereas with a STEM major a student is well-prepared to succeed in one specific job field, a student with a liberal arts degree may find that they are qualified to pursue a wide variety of jobs.
“When options are virtually unlimited, it can be difficult to zero in on a career path,” Weinkle said.
Because of this, a liberal arts degree can be a wise option for students who are not yet sure what career they want to pursue after they graduate from college because the opportunities these degrees provide are endless.
Studies have shown that current college students are predicted to have 15 different careers during their lifetime, and a liberal arts degree will prepare students to adapt to such a wide variety of different jobs.
Those who support shifting the focus in education to STEM fields do so because they believe these are the more practical fields of study.
However, education experts have suggested that perhaps the best course of action is to focus on blending the arts and sciences and exploring how both these branches of learning influence and work with each other.
“Creativity is absolutely important in today’s workforce, especially in this generation. We need innovators to be creative and think outside of the box, which is why companies such as Google and Apple have workspaces that are creative and involve knowledge in design, the fine arts, and humanities. These humanities and fine arts skills need to meet with those of STEM [fields] to innovate and make the world a better place,” English teacher and media specialist Ibis Mendoza, who currently works at Miami Lakes K-8 Center, said.
Liberal arts education programs are very prevalent in higher level education, as many of the top universities in the country have a liberal arts school or track.
However, liberal arts colleges that tailor specifically to this kind of education are gaining more and more prestige and have become a viable alternative for students in search of a more unique college experience.
“With a student body of nearly 1,400 students, I was able to connect with people and found a strong sense of community among students, faculty and staff,” MAST alumnus Katie Norland said of her experience attending a small liberal arts college called Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia.
Unlike most traditional universities with a large population, Norland’s classes were small and her professors actually knew her name and cared about her performance in class.
“The experience was not unlike the experience that I had at MAST— small classes, challenging teachers, close relationships with everyone around me, and an environment that supported intellectual growth,” Norland said.
Not having a passion for the sciences or mathematics does not automatically mean that a student is set up for failure for the rest of their lives, even if that is what the education system might want students to believe.
With a liberal arts degree, students actually have a much greater degree of flexibility with how they live the rest of their lives.
“[A liberal arts degree] is also a survivalist degree. As long as you know how to apply critical thinking skills, approach problems with creativity, ask interesting questions, and understand context, it will not be hard to find a job that pays,” Weinkle said.