The global pandemic has disrupted all of higher education, but perhaps no sector in it more than liberal arts colleges. Our bread-and-butter is close personalized interaction between faculty mentors and students. We provide students with a holistic living-learning environment that COVID-19 and remote learning has abruptly upended.
Dr. Sonia Cardenas
But a liberal arts education is about much more than where we teach and learn. It provides students with lifelong skills and a broad base of knowledge. To be sure, these skills and knowledge translate into jobs and earnings over a lifetime. They also produce societal outcomes that we can no longer afford to ignore.
The decisions made across every sector of society in preventing and responding to crises are shaped by what the people making those decisions know, how they think, and what they value. This is the real power of a college education and a liberal-arts one in particular.
We overlook the societal impact of education when we think of higher education only in individualized terms (job outcomes) or equate quality with institutional reputation (college rankings). As important as jobs and rankings are, the global pandemic illustrates that we need to care more about what and how students learn.
Below are 25 ways in which a liberal arts education can shape our quality of life as a society. All of these are learning outcomes linked to a broad-based personalized education that is rooted in the liberal arts and reinforced through real-world experiences. Liberal arts students learn how to grapple with hard, enduring questions mirroring the messiness of life. They learn how to think, not just what to think.
In navigating this new remote world, let’s not lose sight of the kind of society we want and need to be. Let’s make value-based decisions, not fear-based ones, about our educational systems. Our society will need liberal arts graduates now more than ever before. Regardless of their career path, liberal arts graduates will be broadly prepared to make the world better.
Dr. Sonia Cardenas is acting dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, and professor of political science at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.