Friday, June 8, 2012

Liberal Arts v. Trade Schools

No job offers yet. I guess there’s still time. In the meantime, I question if I made a mistake with my liberal arts degree. Would I have been better off getting a specialized or vocational degree? Would I look good in plumber overalls? Hell yea!

Liberal Arts degrees provide students with an overall education. It prepares them not just for their career, but for the world. No one likes being forced to take Intermediate Statistics or Child Psychology if they are a biology major; however, by knowing more than their core subject, they are better equipped to be a well-rounded citizen.

Trade schools or universities with no general education component prepare students for a specific career track.  Examples are art schools, air conditioner repair certificates, and vocational programs at community colleges. Rather than expend energy on classes that have nothing to do with their future, students enroll in courses with a stronger focus on their major.

When families and students are questioning the high cost of college, it is no wonder they may gravitate to a program they think will guarantee them a job upon graduation. As an advisor on the side (my school lets us dabble in a variety of other departments for additional experience), several parents have asked me “which program will guarantee my son a job?” My answer is a variation of, “I have no idea”.

I chose to be a teacher, a purveyor of knowledge, a holder of an education diploma. Why? In part, because I was told there would be a HUGE number of teachers retiring by the time I was ready to enter the work force and the anticipated need was overwhelming. Obviously, thanks to budget cuts, the strains on our economy, and veteran teachers who cannot afford to retire, the demand for teachers has dried up.

Frustratingly for some, our nation’s higher education system is based on a liberal arts curriculum. However, as some schools are finding out, students would rather earn a degree they will use and will garner them employment, and they are flocking to those programs instead of the traditional ones. I am a supporter of liberal arts, but, I also understand students need to work. They need to cover rent, save for the future, and pay back student loans.

So, what is the answer? Do we forgo the liberal arts program in exchange for a more specific curriculum designed only to provide a vocational education? Will this give our students a fighting chance at landing a job after crossing the graduation stage? Or will it lead us to be a nation filled with trained people, but an uneducated citizenry? 


  1. I think this is a tricky question to answer. As someone who recently graduated with a 4 year degree and hopes to continue to grad school in the fall, I'd say 4 year was the way to go for me. Sure, there were classes I really loved and classes I absolutely loathed, but they both taught me things I wouldn't have experienced elsewhere. Part of me wishes I would have taken other classes, but hindsight is always 20/20.

    If I had gone for a vocational education, would I have felt the same way? There's no way to know for sure. I also wouldn't have gotten some of the same experiences I did if I hadn't gone for four years (an internship, working as a CA/RA, meeting some of my closest friends - and boyfriend!). Sure, I'd like to learn some vocational things, such as basic car repairs, so that I know these sort of things should the need arise, so it's definitely an interesting conundrum.

    It'll be interesting to see where our nation goes in terms of education and what the future holds for higher education.

  2. I agree! I think that it depends on the person and where they want to go in their life. I don't think either track is a better one. But, I think higher education is in for a change as the economy and our priorities shift.

  3. But the problem with the strictly vocational/trade schools is that the students come out of it with one skill. What if they are unable to find a job that utilizes that skill? That if, once they have spent some time at a job in their chosen field, they realize that they don't want to do this for the rest of their life? The beauty of a liberal arts education is that you are prepared for a career change if need be, more so than if you were only specialized in one thing. Not that there is anything wrong with trade schools or specialized education - if someone is truly passionate about something, it is good for them. Especially with more technical fields, such as computer science. But it can be limiting. But hey, what do I know? I just graduated with my BA in History and am working at a movie theatre, earning just over minimum wage...

  4. As a science major the only thing I regret from how I spent my time at Uni was being an RA. While I made many great friends doing it I have come to understand that if I had spent that time as an undergraduate researcher I wouldn't have lost many more years trying to get into graduate school.

    If any science undergrads are out there reading this: get to know your professors, ask to work in their labs, and stay away from the allure of free room and board.

  5. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
    trade school

  6. Hey are using Wordpress for your blog platform?
    I'm new to the blog world but I'm trying to get started and set up my own.
    Do you need any html coding knowledge to make
    your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    My web blog ... soft drinks