Author: Claire Cancilla
In the Republican presidential debate Nov. 10, Marco Rubio declared, incorrectly, that “welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” This is not the first time that politicians, usually Republicans, have decried the value of liberal arts and the humanities. Earlier this year, Rubio also stated that he did not believe it is “worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major. Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.”
The problem is that these assertions assume that someone who majors in philosophy is going to become a philosopher. In his attempts to discredit the value of a liberal arts education, Rubio misses the reason that the liberal arts are necessary: students with a liberal arts education are prepared to become anything they want, not just what they major in — a trait that is particularly relevant in an ever-changing job market.
There is no single subject that can prepare someone for all the careers they may have in their lifetime. Liberal arts, however, provide a background in transferable writing, thinking and communication skills that can extend to multiple fields. And all careers require the ability to think critically, look at a problem from a variety of viewpoints and communicate a message, which liberal arts programs and institutions teach.
Rubio’s statements and promise to defund the liberal arts do not even align with the reality of what employers want out of job candidates. According to an article in The Atlantic, 93 percent of employers believe that critical thinking skills learned from a liberal arts background are more important than what their major was. Occupational schools such as the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Culinary Institute of America teach their students liberal arts because they acknowledge the importance of learning transferable critical thinking and communication skills.
By encouraging students to earn degrees that provide an immediately apparent career path, politicians are not preparing students for a job market that is constantly changing. The fear of unemployment upon graduation is very real for college students, but the fear of unemployment should not dictate what they major in.
A liberal arts background can prepare a student to go into the field of their major. But it can also train them to go into business like Susan Wojciki, the CEO of Youtube who majored in history and literature, or government like California Governor Jerry Brown, who majored in classics. The comprehensive nature of a liberal arts education has already shaped many contributive members of society.
Additionally, students rarely know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they enter college. Rates of students changing majors vary depending on the university, but the figures are still significant. At University of Florida, 61 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation. At Princeton that rate is even higher, at 70 percent.
In 2013, Christina Paxson, an economist and the President of Brown University, wrote an article for the New Republic about the long-term benefits of the liberal arts.
“Our focus should not be only on training students about the skills needed immediately upon graduation,” she said. “The value of those skills will depreciate quickly. Instead, our aim is to invest in the long-term intellectual, creative and social capacity of human beings.”
Society needs welders and it needs occupational degrees. But society also needs philosophers and the liberal arts. To encourage students to get a degree that is supposed to equal immediate employment is not only unrealistic considering the constantly changing landscape of the American economy, but a hindrance to the development of cultural society. The economy of the United States is pluralistic and needs people who have the transferable skills that liberal arts provide.
Claire Cancilla is a senior history major. She can be reached at [email protected].
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