The Value of Liberal Education
In general, most American colleges and universities provide a liberal education. This means an education that is not just practical or useful—one that goes beyond basic job training. It embraces learning for its own sake. Liberal education is based on the idea that people are naturally curious about themselves and their world; that there is something deeply edifying about learning.
To be sure, you will have a major and learn a lot about a field. But, having a major is more important than what that major is. Learning to master a subject—any subject—is far more important than acquiring specific skills for a job.
After all, if you’re like other recent graduates, you will change jobs numerous times in your life. Today, graduates on average change jobs 10 times in the 20 years after college. The career you end up keeping may very well have nothing to do with your major.
So, the real value of the major is that it involves deep learning; this deep learning—regardless of the topic—advances your intellectual capacity and prepares you for a lifetime of learning.
But liberal education involves more than narrow study. In addition to your major, a liberal education also exposes you to a breadth of knowledge in many fields—in the sciences, arts and humanities. Just as importantly, liberal education develops your intellectual skills, too—your ability to write well, speak effectively and think critically.
This part of the curriculum, often termed general education—and the basis for the UMD University Studies program—is critical to the academic experience of liberal education. You’ll learn about ancient puzzles and contemporary debates. You’ll discover an appreciation for the many ways people try to understand and improve our world.
All these pieces of a liberal education will make you a good employee, professional, entrepreneur, public official, X-gamer, rock star—or whatever else you will do to earn a living. In fact, when business leaders are asked what colleges and universities should emphasize more in their curricula, the most common answers are those things that liberal education provides—the ability write and speak well, reason analytically and think critically.
But, the value of college is much more than financial. It’s much more than career development—even broadly understood.
Its most important value is personal.
College will dramatically change how you see yourself and your world. You will be a different person when you graduate. Your perspective will be higher, your experience of life richer.