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College Education: Liberal Arts, Job Training, or Both

Updated on August 25, 2020

What is the meaning of a college education?

Colleges and universities are places of ideas. Share thoughts. Debate concepts. Explore new subjects. Dream about what could be. Play the "what if" game. That's one definition of what college can be. Discuss and explore ideas for its own enjoyment. Knowledge for knowledge's sake.

The other definition is that college is a place for career training. Study Marketing, Engineering, Psychology, Law, and so on. Forget the Liberal Arts. You can't make a career studying those subjects. Literature, Art History. French, if they interest you, study them after you graduate and get a good job. Makes sense, especially considering the cost of a college education.

A bit about my college education

Nope. I'm not in the above picture.

I make my living as a technical writer, documenting software and explaining coding concepts. My major in college was Music Theory. Back then, I had no interest in Mathematics and Computer Science. I thought computers were fine and felt good for the Math majors who had a fun and interesting toy to play with. Science was not my area of excellence.

In addition to my Music Theory classes, I took many Art History classes. The arts, music, painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture is what captured my interest.


So what does a Music Theory major do for work?

I thought I would be a composer or songwriter. When I graduated, I worked backstage and set up sound systems. I also edited music for dancers. Well, that was my part-rime gig. My day job was working in a warehouse. It wasn't a bad job. Good people, fair pay, and a pleasant work environment. I enjoyed it. I did my job and could do music or explore ideas after work.

The warehouse was implementing its first computer system. The company needed computer people so they decided to pay for employees to take computer classes. By chance, lighting boards and synthesizers were becoming computerized. I figured a few computer classes could improve my backstage career. And, I would have a better paying day job.

Instead, I fell in love with coding. I was creating. Interestingly, coding and composing are related. You create using symbols (musical notes, keywords). I still worked backstage part-time but my career was definitely in the computer field.

University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge | Source

Does a Liberal Arts education provide value?

Yes it does. I believe it is important to have a well-rounded education and to be able to see the world from a point-of-view not just defined by your area of study. There is a saying that goes something like this, "To a carpenter with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." If the problem is a nail, the carpenter is on the right path. But what if the problem is actually a screw? Or an electrical outlet? Or the carpenter has the wrong hammer?

I have a part-time gig teaching English as a Second Language online. It's fun. And when I first started, I had a collection of online tools and sites that I knew would be perfect for teaching. Well, I thought I knew. I was the person with a computer who thought everything problem looked like it needed an app.

I was wrong. I forgot about thinking of the best ways and tools to use to teach ... the hammer, screwdriver, paper, pen, pencil, in addition to the computer. My students wanted to learn English which also included writing in English, not just typing. Writing on a piece of paper with pen or pencil and holding the paper in front of the webcam is low tech but it works. And it is giving the students the opportunity to do a valuable activity. It gives me the opportunity to see if their writing is legible. Are they making all of the letters correctly?

My students also had expectations about how teachers teach based on their experiences in their countries. So thinking in a a Liberal Arts mode was important. My students were not beta testers for the computer apps and methodologies.

Value of Liberal Arts Education
Value of Liberal Arts Education | Source

People are not always logical and problems are not always easy to solve

A Liberal Arts education also provides you a more diverse way to look at the world. People are not always logical and problems are not always easy to solve. And, there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.


Philosophy, Greek Drama, Philology ...

Is it worthwhile to major in Philosophy or French, or some other class where job prospects are not strong? That depends on the individual. The owner of several ESL schools where I taught majored in Philosophy. He said that philosophy was useful for him when analyzing business problems and making business decisions.

I can't speak for students and there families' financial responsibilities. Some students may work in a family business. Whether the business is large or a small mom and pop shop, they may find that they want to study what interests them. They have a job when they graduate. For others, a good education is their ticket out of poverty.

There are no simple, one size fits all, answer.

Cost of a college education

Is the cost of a college education worth it?

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Online education

Is online education as effective as in-person classes?

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What is college for?

What is college for?

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