File Name: advantages and disadvantages of liberal education .zip
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- Liberal Arts, and the Advantages of Being Useless
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A liberal education is a system or course of education suitable for the cultivation of a free Latin: liber human being. It is based on the medieval concept of the liberal arts or, more commonly now, the liberalism of the Age of Enlightenment. Sir Wilfred Griffin Eady defined liberal education as being education for its own sake and personal enrichment, with the teaching of values.
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Catharine B. Since at least the s, economists have explored the economic returns to private and public investments in education from pre-kindergarten to graduate school. Over the past two decades, increasing costs of higher education, changes in the labor market due to rapid technological change and globalization, and dramatic fluctuations in the state of the economy have underscored the need to understand the returns to higher education so that we can orient our education system to ensure individual and collective opportunity.
Recent research has shown that, on average, returns to higher education are positive, even as costs to pursue higher education increase. But we have less evidence about the differential impact of courses, programs, and types of institutions on future earnings, including the differential impact of a liberal arts education.
To determine the best investments for individuals and society from an economic point of view, we need to understand how the costs and returns to higher education vary across educational alternatives given current and anticipated future labor markets, including identifying those alternatives that best prepare students for future labor market success given uncertainty.
Liberal arts colleges and liberal education have been the subject of study for decades. Distinctively American: The Residential Liberal Arts Colleges Kobik and Graubard, , a collection of essays from , explored the advantages of such an education, while also anticipating the many challenges currently receiving greater attention. More recent examples of authors making the case for liberal education include Zakaria , Roth , and Hutner and Mohamed All of these explore the advantages of a liberal education in terms of learning to think critically, to solve problems, to communicate effectively, and to understand the world in which we live and contribute to making it a better place.
Recently, liberal arts higher education has been under increasing attack for being of questionable value, although criticism and concerns are not new.
Kleinman discusses four states, for example, where politicians have gone as far as to propose tying public financial support to higher education opportunities geared toward particular jobs, while reducing public support for liberal arts and humanities programs, which are assumed to poorly prepare students for employment. Many of the defenders of liberal education, including those mentioned above, of course contest the conclusion that a liberal education poorly prepares students for employment.
In doing so, they often stress the non-pecuniary benefits of such an education, in some cases taking the economic returns as given or assuming they are less important Nussbaum, Non-pecuniary benefits are relevant and valuable to both individuals and society more broadly, and should be taken into account along with the pecuniary benefits in considering the future value of a liberal education. But, to counter current criticisms, evidence on the financial or economic returns to the investment in liberal education would be helpful.
Clearly, students, their families, and public policy makers care about employment options after graduation HERI Freshman Survey, It therefore behooves liberal arts defenders to recognize and validate these concerns and provide evidence of the pecuniary benefits to a liberal education so that students and families can take them into account in their decision-making. This paper reviews the existing research on the economic benefits and costs of a liberal arts education to individuals and society more broadly, summarizing what we know and what we would like to know as we think about the future.
We begin with a discussion of the challenges of defining what a liberal arts education is, since measuring its impact depends on a clear and shared understanding of its components. Increased earnings resulting from higher education, on average, can broadly inform individual and public investments in higher education.
Earnings impacts, however, vary across individuals and institutions depending on individual student characteristics, including their programmatic and curricular decisions, and institutional characteristics, including programmatic and curricular offerings, resources, and student body characteristics. For example, attending a liberal arts college may or may not be a good proxy for receiving a liberal education. These issues will be explored in greater detail in the following discussion, in service of informing future research on the economic impact of a liberal education.
Finally, to calculate returns to different types of higher education investments, costs are also discussed along with the expected impact on earnings. Both individual and societal costs and benefits are discussed. Critics claim that a liberal arts education is worth less than the alternatives, and perhaps not even worth the investment at all. They argue that increasing costs and low future earnings limit the value of a liberal arts education, especially compared to alternative options such as pre-professional programs that appear to be better rewarded in the current labor market.
Existing evidence does not support these conclusions, when other student and institutional characteristics are controlled for. At the same time, the empirical evidence is limited and further empirical research is needed to better understand the value of a liberal education relative to alternatives types of higher education. In the conclusion, we discuss possible areas for future research. There is not complete consensus or clarity around what is meant by a liberal arts education.
While it has of course been associated with the education that is offered at liberal arts colleges, attending a liberal arts college is neither necessary nor sufficient for receiving a liberal education, and there is not even consensus about which colleges should be classified as liberal arts colleges see Ferrall, It also leaves unanswered what students are actually learning by studying this broad set of courses.
The impact of this type of education on earnings presumably depends in part on its impact on the skills valued by the labor market, not so much on knowledge of particular subject matter. A liberal education therefore may be characterized not only by what is taught, but how it is taught and the skills that it develops as a result.
Pascarella et al. While these studies examine a variety of learning outcomes rather than the earnings impact of a liberal arts education, they highlight the difficulties of defining a liberal arts education, identifying who has received one, and therefore measuring its impact on student outcomes. In addition to curricular and instructional practices, however ambiguous, a variety of other experiences come bundled with a liberal arts college education, including a residential experience and a variety of extracurricular or co-curricular activities.
Liberal arts colleges, and also many undergraduate programs offered at research universities that are primarily residential, argue that these are core to the educational experience. When trying to determine the costs and benefits of any particular four-year educational experience, it is difficult to disentangle all the various aspects of the program from the results on outcomes as well as the effects on costs. Are students learning important skills for the labor market in their classrooms, or through editing the student newspaper, or learning teamwork on the athletic field?
To what extent are high costs driven by the academic experience, or by the accompanying residential experience and extracurricular activities? Determining the various impacts of different aspects of a liberal education will be important particularly in finding ways to cost-effectively extend the benefits to a greater share of students pursuing higher education.
It may be that we can only identify students who have received a liberal education by examining transcripts and courses taken in terms of the curriculum, as well as individual engagement in extracurricular activities. How the curriculum is delivered may also play a role, with the degree of active learning and greater engagement with faculty defining what we mean by a liberal education. The ability to deal with very large data sets may make such an exercise possible.
Figure 1 demonstrates how one could graphically characterize a liberal education depending on the extent to which the curriculum exhibits the liberal arts, extracurricular and residential experiences accord with liberal arts values, and pedagogy embodies active learning and close interaction between faculty and students.
If these are the attributes that are considered important to a liberal education, they could be combined into an index, although this would require assigning weights to each of the components.
In some cases, this might be a useful summary metric to have. In others, it might be better to keep the components separate, so that they could be individually evaluated. A large literature examines the returns on investments in education from early childhood education through graduate school. Economists model the decision-making around investing in education as a cost-benefit calculation.
If the expected net present value suggests a positive return, taking uncertainty into account, going to college is a good financial investment. What is the cost of more schooling and what is the expected future impact on earnings? Is it a good investment and, for whom?
Researchers have examined the returns to receiving various types of post-secondary degrees to try to answer this question for higher education. Looking at the correlation of post-secondary educational attainment and best estimates of the earnings of those going on to college compared to those with a high school degree show that those who have gone on to college do earn more than high school graduates.
The College Board, in Education Pays , reports these data every three years. There is also evidence that this premium has increased over time. Autor reports that this premium has doubled since , for both men and women.
There is a growing consensus that the increased earnings associated with higher education are being driven by technological change that has increased the demand for skilled labor, which has outpaced the increase in supply Oreopoulos and Petronijevic, ; Goldin and Katz, ; Autor, While educational attainment has been increasing, and therefore increasing the supply of skilled workers, it has not grown fast enough to offset the rising demand.
As a result, the labor market is rewarding more educated workers through higher wages. Deming demonstrates a growing demand for social skills in the labor market since , and not just cognitive skills. Technological change may be biased toward social skills, because technology to date has not been able to substitute for these skills easily. It is not clear whether this will reward one type of higher education over another, but it is possible that it will benefit types with greater emphasis on interaction and teamwork, often associated with a liberal education, but not exclusively so.
These data, which are now publicly available at the institution level, contribute significantly to the research on economic returns to higher education and confirm that higher education is associated with higher earnings. We know that family income is a good predictor of future income, but that education is associated with moving up in the income distribution Reeves, Chetty et al.
As discussed below, we can use each of these data sources Chetty et al. One important issue with all the data on the correlation between lifetime earnings and education is that correlation does not prove causation, which is what we are really after.
There are selection problems, in that those who go on to college and those who go to the colleges whose graduates demonstrate the highest earnings have particular characteristics such that they would earn more in the labor market whether they went to college or not, or regardless of which college they attended. Since it is not possible in this situation to run randomized controlled trials, researchers in many cases rely on natural experiments.
Those just below the cut-off mostly enroll in 2 year community colleges, with the difference in earnings outcome representing the 2 year college penalty.
While it is hard to conclude definitively, the accumulated evidence supports the causal effect of education on earnings. Before turning to the evidence on the returns to a liberal arts education as a subset of those going on to post-secondary education, it is important to note that there are concerns that individuals are underinvesting in all types of higher education given the evidence on overall positive and indeed super-normal returns.
Possible explanations include the greater likelihood of low income families facing liquidity constraints, having an aversion to debt even if not faced with actual liquidity constraints, and making decisions with imperfect information about the costs and benefits of going on to higher education.
The correlation between parental income and own income for lower-income students is positively disrupted by going on to higher education. These findings will have implications for the discussion of the costs and benefits of a liberal arts education compared to alternatives, if different types of higher education have a differential impact on lower income students.
The impact on earnings of a liberal arts degree, compared to alternative forms of higher education. We are interested specifically in the economic benefits of a liberal arts education however defined as a subset of this work. Little work has been done explicitly on this.
It is easiest to do for those attending what are classified as liberal arts colleges, but as discussed earlier, this may not adequately identify those receiving a liberal arts education. The types of skills that the labor market is currently rewarding through increased earnings for those with more education are believed to include abstract problem solving, critical thinking, and effective communication.
In many cases, they are either assumed or measured by inputs into the educational process, rather than outcomes. Over the last 20 years, this has been an issue for accreditors, and schools have paid increasing attention to the problem, working to measure the value added of their education, rather than just measuring inputs Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Examining earnings is one manifestation of trying to measure the outcome of investing in higher education.
In terms of improving the skills that economists argue are being rewarded by the labor market, Arum and Roksa find that liberal arts colleges do better than other colleges and universities at instilling these skills. But to do so requires holding all other variables which affect earnings constant, which is challenging to do. We review what work has been done on this issue.
The returns to different occupations have also been studied, looking at the occupational outcomes of those with different types of higher education experiences. Yet, all of this work suffers from the difficulties mentioned above, including the fact that correlation does not prove causation. It is difficult to disentangle treatment from selection, particularly in the choice of major and occupation, which depend on both ability and preferences, and not just educational attainment.
Finally, later in this section, we present findings from the EOOP, which has access to newly available data on individual taxpayer IRS earnings data Chetty et al. The project has published institutional-level data on earnings outcomes at about age 34 by parental income of the students.
These data allow for the comparison of earnings outcomes for different types of colleges and universities and for students from different income backgrounds. We used these data to compare the earnings outcomes of students who attended liberal arts colleges with other institutions. Combining with data on selectivity and share of different majors at different colleges and universities, these comparisons shed some light on the earnings outcomes for students attending liberal arts colleges compared to other colleges and universities.
Liberal Arts, and the Advantages of Being Useless
Lewis argues that a liberal arts education will become increasingly important in the twenty-first century because the automation economy requires more than ever that individuals develop the cognitive flexibility and the habits of mind that allow for life-long learning. This article offers some historical context for the efforts of Yale and NUS to found a new liberal arts college in Asia. A liberal arts education will become increasingly important in the twenty-first century because the automation economy requires more than ever that individuals develop the cognitive flexibility and the habits of mind that allow for life-long learning. The ability to learn new skills, accept new approaches, and cope with continual social change will be essential in the fourth industrial revolution 4IR. This chapter offers some historical context for the efforts of Yale and NUS to found a new liberal arts college in Asia as well as some indications of key considerations in the broader effort to globalize the liberal arts.
education might simply prefer job training to the liberal arts. Perhaps. about either. If I made a list of each university's objective merits, which I did, limitations of such curricula.” wifusion.orgpdf.
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Department of Education. Liberal arts programs provide students with a broad and general education that covers different areas of thought. However, these programs often do not provide a significant depth of experience an d study in any one area. There may not be the opportunity to learn and develop any particular technical skills to a proficient level. Even subjects that are based on post-modernist kind of theories, such as Gender studies, Sociology etc, are quite useless in terms of attaining a well paid job.