Growing up, I often heard that in order to get a good job, I need to go to university and get a degree. I never really questioned this idea. I always thought it made sense; if school is meant to prepare me for the workplace, then more school would make me more qualified for more specialized jobs, so I could make more money. On paper, this idea might make sense, but being in university and considering their historical purpose, the idea that going to university to get a good job is wildly over simplified.
While there certainly are many programs out there that offer relevant job training, the primary purpose of a liberal arts education, one that you will likely get at a university, is not to prepare you to be a good worker. The main goal of a liberal arts education is to make you a better, more thoughtful person.
While there certainly is a workplace benefit to getting a liberal arts education, as many of the transferable skills that you will learn could be useful in a variety of workplaces, the university lecture hall or seminar room are not where you will be prepared for the workforce, because frankly that just isn’t their purpose.
A liberal arts education, at its core, is meant to help you become a more well rounded person, someone who is able to think introspectively, critically analyse and take in the world around them and also to allow you to formulate complex thoughts and defend or change those when faced with contradictory evidence. At their most basic levels, literature, mathematics, philosophy, social science and the physical sciences are all based on these ideas.
In its truest form, a liberal arts education, based in any of those disciplines, is simply meant to achieve those broad goals, nothing more. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but we often lie to ourselves and we are often lied to about the nature of these programs. While they certainly can impact our future work opportunities, going into a liberal arts education with the sole purpose of using it to find a job is the wrong way to go about it.
In Ancient Greece a liberal arts education was something every citizen was encouraged to get, so that they could be active and informed members of society. This mentality, that of using education simply to better yourself, is something we don’t see enough of in society today, because often times I feel that a lot of people in these programs may have been lied to.
Universities are actively trying to confuse people on this topic and really turn into job training schools as opposed to schools for thought and self-improvement. With the introduction of vocational, business and technical schools, it seems like universities in Canada are trying more and more to muddy the waters in order to peel students away from colleges, without necessarily changing the nature of their liberal arts programs. What this means is that many people are going into liberal arts programs expecting job training and often coming out confused and without any true job prospects.
While preferably people would go into their program knowing what they are getting themselves into, it’s also the university’s responsibility to be more open about what exactly they are trying to do. They can’t be both good liberal arts institutions and job training schools, they need to pick a lane and stick with it.
In a perfect world, this shouldn’t be an issue, colleges have always been for those looking for vocational and technical skills training, while universities were for those seeking further education and intellectual enlightenment. Now those lines seem to be blurring and I think that’s bad for students, parents and professors alike, but not for the colleges and universities themselves. The actual nature of their degree will only get more confusing, while the schools will get to keep taking more and more tuition money.