What does a liberal arts education get you?

Lots of people seem to think the answer these days is not much. Employers are looking for more specific, more technical, more professional degrees. Students fear a degree in philosophy or language will doom them to working in food service trying to pay off their student loans.

There certainly have been times when I wished I had learned a practical skill rather than spending four years delving into German language and culture, but on the whole I think my degree has prepared me well. For one thing, it (combined with experience working at the college library) got me into library school. But even without that, I learned¬†transferable¬†skills. Computer office suites have changed drastically since I graduated, and yet I have not only readily adapted to each new version but have often become that person in the office everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions to. (Yes, I know – “to whom everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions.”) Likewise, learning about the concept of information retrieval has helped me be a pro at searching all manner of online search engines – and has also helped me retroactively adapt to card catalogs and paper indexes in my current job.

Barbara Fister’s post What Can Higher Ed Learn from Libraries? is right on the mark. There is value to a general education – perhaps more than ever with the pace of change and the growth of new fields and careers today. Gone are the days when you got your liberal arts degree, started a job, and worked your way up within the company until retirement. The job and career mobility today’s young adults can expect is all the more reason to give them a well-rounded education rather than teaching them a limited set of currently relevant technical skills. But I suspect most librarians already know this.