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Wall Street Journal Stresses Liberal Arts Value

Source: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey, Wall Street Journal

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stresses the high investment value of a well-rounded liberal arts education and warns college parents against the dangers of highly specialized degrees.

In his November articleWhy Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire,” Dr. Peter Cappelli compares college parents to “venture-capitalists” and advises them to research a college education as they would an investment. He also warns against choosing a highly specialized program in favor of a more well-rounded degree. The Cornell and Oxford graduate claims the current trend for vocational training in an increasingly competitive job market may seem practical, but it actually “may be worse to have the wrong career focus in college than having no career focus – because skills for one career often can’t be used elsewhere.”

Cappelli, a Wharton Professor of Management and Director of Human Resources, advises “venture-capitalists” to invest “their limited capital to get the biggest bang.” The first way to cut out-of-pocket expenses, he says, is to reduce the number of years it takes to graduate.  While a private school may seem more expensive, it may actually be the smartest choice in the long run. In a public versus private education comparison, Cappelli’s studies show  “the private school has a wider array of support services – counseling, tutoring, and so forth – that vastly improve the odds that a student will actually graduate, and will do so in four years.”

Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire” also provides ample evidence against vocational or specialized degrees. Capelli claims the job market is highly unpredictable and, if it was predictable, “students will rush to train in that field and the supply of potential workers goes up.”  Focusing on a very specific field also mean that students miss out on courses that might broaden writing, communication, and critical thinking skills – all central subjects in the Brevard College liberal arts core. Capelli adds that students who pick out a career path at the early age of 17 actually limit their adaptability to job market demands and increase the difficulty of switching majors later.

Cappelli offers a final word of advice to parents looking for the biggest return on their college education investment:  “get a well-rounded education and worry about the job market after graduation.” He claims hands-on experience, critical thinking and writing skills – the hallmarks of a liberal arts education – will always be in demand, no matter the vocational trends of the day.  

 “Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire” was released by The Wall Street Journal online on November 15, 2013.