Liberal education for a lifetime of leadership and service

The liberal arts and liberal education are in the news this week. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on recent research sponsored by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which looked into earnings by major:

While humanities and social-science majors started out near the bottom of all college graduates in terms of salary, the report says, older people who majored in those fields—many of whom also held graduate degrees—outearned their peers who’d picked professional and pre-professional majors.

While seems to be some confusion about what a liberal education is–including majors in humanities and social sciences and excluding natural sciences and mathematics makes little sense–this does go some way toward debunking influential myths about the inadequacy and antiquated ends and means of liberal education.

Also this week, a colleague forwarded me a news item from 2011, which reported that children of university faculty were twice as likely as the rest of the population to attend liberal arts colleges.

Reading both articles brought to my mind a recent event that highlighted for me the value of a liberal arts education:

In June 2013, I participated in the public release of a report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Three of the report’s twenty co-authors shared the stage with two respondents. I was one of the people on the stage. The others included a Senior Vice President for the largest public relations firm in the world, the managing director of one of the world’s most innovative environmental financial products firms, a former ambassador, and the lead policy advisor to Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Of the five people on the stage, one had an undergraduate education overseas, another had an undergraduate education at a large research university, and three had undergraduate educations at liberal arts colleges (Amherst College, Calvin College, and Wheaton College).

A lot more can and should be said about the ways in which liberal education prepares students for a lifetime of leadership and service in all sectors of our society. But I thought this is an anecdote worthy of that broader conversation.

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