Lately a lot has been written about the demise of the liberal arts degree. Many parents, students, state legislators, and others are questioning the value of a degree that aims to provide students with four years to ground themselves in a core of understanding about the world and to study one area of knowledge in depth in community with other learners. Skeptics and critics wonder if that Bachelor’s degree is really “worth” anything, whether students graduate ready to move into jobs or on to graduate school.
When the new Core Curriculum at St. Mary’s was implemented in 2008 one of the components that the librarians were most excited about was the identification of the fundamental liberal arts skills. We had submitted a proposal for including information literacy in the new curriculum. In the end the fours skills were grouped together and a new mantra was born. “All four skills, all four years.” I resisted the urge to buy t-shirts.
How do critical thinking, written expression, oral expression, and information literacy fit together? And why is it important to see this set of fundamental skills developed throughout all four years of a college education (in the Core and in the disciplines)? Well, the answer to that might actually also explain why a liberal arts education in any discipline is the ideal preparation for work and career. A number of recent surveys asked employers what skills they consider most important for success, or which they thought college’s should focus on more. The answers might surprise you, but most librarians I know (this one included) were not surprised.
A study of employers and recent graduates from Project Information Literacy shows that employers were looking for a range of research and information use skills that includes everything from picking up the phone to collaborating with colleagues.
And check out these recent surveys. Forbes Magazine asked employers what 10 skills they want in 20-something employees. They said:
- Ability to work in a team
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
- Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
- Ability to obtain and process information
- Ability to analyze quantitative data
- Technical knowledge related to the job
- Proficiency with computer software programs
- Ability to create and/or edit written reports
- Ability to sell and influence others
When asked what they wish colleges would focus on most, another group of employers said it isn’t what students learned in their majors. It is:
- Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills
- The ability to analyze and solve complex problems
- The ability to effectively communicate orally
- The ability to effectively communicate in writing
- The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
- The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources
- The ability to innovate and be creative
- Teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings
Hmmm – – maybe we will start wearing those t-shirts.