College Week: Liberal Arts vs. Technical Degree

Monday, March 28, 2011

What is more useful a technical degree or a liberal arts degree. And, which is likely to help you get a job? Two people who stand on opposite sides of the fence. Brian Fitzgerald is the executive director of the Business Higher Education Forum. He stands in favor of science, technology, engineering, and math — or “STEM” degrees. And Mark Bauerlein is an English professor at Emory University. He believes you can’t go wrong with a liberal arts degree.


Mark Bauerlein and Brian Fitzgerald

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [8]

Paul C from CT

I graduated in Electrical Engineering in '74. I have been employed in the defense industry since then and have worked with many engineering and liberal arts majors. Most of the jobs in defense require a strong technical knowledge base, something a liberal arts degree does not provide. Liberal arts graduates tell me they "see the whole picture". I still don't know what that picture is! When designing a weapon system or a sonar system, you need a strong knowledge of analog and digital design, mathematics, interface standards, computer architecture, etc. Granted, communication skills are important for all jobs, but not all English Majors can give a good presentation - many engineers I know have exceptional presentation skills. Another thing to keep in mind is that engineers, architects, medical professionals, etc require a LICENSE to practice their occupation. That is why engineering programs are structured and require ABET accreditation. English, Political Science, History etc do not require any form of licensing. Take a look at the graduation rate for engineering majors at most universities. It is around 35%. Why, because engineering is very difficult and not everyone can make the grade. I am proud of what I have accomplished and would never trade my technical degree for a liberal arts degree.

Jun. 26 2011 08:33 PM
Greg Neill from Los Angeles, CA

I have a BA in Philosophy from a small liberal arts college. While I can see that some business careers may require courses such as finance or accounting, I have never had need for them. I have had a very successful career starting as a technical writer and ending up as a software developer through on-the-job training. I'm currently headed to grad school to pursue a masters in psychology. Personally I would never trade the life skills and perspective on the world my liberal arts education gave me for a more vocational/technical type of degree.

Mar. 29 2011 12:49 AM
Darlene from Ferndale, MI

I agree with Mark Bauerlein, technical vs liberal arts is a false divide. Increasingly, a tech ed won’t guarantee you a decent job as engineering jobs are outsourced to India and China where talent can be found for $15/hr or less. Going into debt for tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes more) for an education just doesn’t make economic sense in this environment. The only education worthwhile, it seems, is whatever will allow people to earn an income without having to depend on an employer; in other words, education that teaches micro-scale entrepreneurship, like basic accounting, writing, marketing, organizational skills, and learning a salable trade.

Mar. 28 2011 10:50 AM
Shawn Hart from Oklahoma

The spiraling cost of a college education should warrant a review of tuition: charging higher tuition for courses that form part of the core curriculum of majors that evidence a higher average employment rate and/or higher average income post completion.

Mar. 28 2011 10:25 AM

The ability to create, to imagine, to perceive the possibility of alternative choices is critical to everyone. Artists do this every day. To integrate understanding in a rigorous way is what the arts do.

The future belongs to those who are imaginative. A good education in either the arts or sciences can do his. But to view college as nothing but prep for work is to be a trained animal. Seals are trained. People need to think. For themselves.

Mar. 28 2011 08:58 AM
Winning Applications from Fairfield County, CT

As a liberal arts major at an Ivy League school, I was dismayed at how simply unprepared I was for the "real world". I had to go back and get my MBA to understand and be truly successful in business. This is one of the reasons I started a college consulting firm. While I believe a liberal arts education has merit, liberal arts schools have a responsibility to teach their students accounting, statistics and finance, not as an add-on after graduation courses, as many have started to do, but during students' 4 years on campus.

Mar. 28 2011 08:02 AM
Tim Lemire from Rhode Island

Regardless of what major students choose, the more pressing question is: To what extent does the college help students make the connection between the major and the job market, beyond pointing students in the general direction of the Career Center? Because students are taught either by graduate students or full-time products of the academic system, few if any professors are equipped to advise students on doing anything with their major besides using it to plan for an advanced degree (i.e., to become one of them). My career guide "I'm An English Major -- Now What? How English Majors Can Find Happiness, Success, and a Real Job" (Writer's Digest Books) tries to fill in some gaps. In advising college students, I've had seniors ask me what it is a book editor does: kids should not be paying $50,000 a year to be that clueless.

Mar. 28 2011 07:17 AM
anela from cape cod

Our daughter is very artistic and wants to pursue studio art, she is also a math person and wants to continue learning more in math fields. We have opted for a liberal arts education where she can pursue both fields. It has been a real challenge to find the right college where she can do both

Mar. 28 2011 06:55 AM

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