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What’s Next: The Liberal Arts Education

Whether pursuing an under graduate degree or graduate-level training in the liberal arts, students’ education is on solid footing. Eberly College of Arts And Sciences majors and minors build effective communication Valerie Lastinger (right), associate dean for undergraduate studies, and Joan Gorham    (left), associate dean for academic affairs in the Eberly College have revamped the way the Office of Undergraduate Studies works with current and prospective students to translate those core skills to post-graduate aspirations, and to support their evolving needs.
People talking
Joan Gorham (left), associate dean of academic affairs, and Valerie Lastinger, associate dean of undergraduate studies, work to support the academic programs in the Eberly College and to ensure student success.

What's different now about how students approach the college experience?

Lastinger: A generation or two ago, students came to college for an education, but they did not necessarily seek a direct link between their degree and their future career. Today, when prospective students visit campus, they are concerned about receiving an education that will prepare them to get a job after they earn their degree. They see their degree as a preparation for the job market.

Gorham: A much larger proportion of students seek a bachelor's degree now than they did a generation ago, when much of the U.S. population went on to their careers right out of high school. There is a different kind of self-selection into the university today, and a significant financial investment for families with more diverse demographic profiles. I also think that there are some generational differences. Students we work with today in higher education are used to going to others for advice, and for help, and for direction. A generation ago universities might have said 'if you're smart enough to get in, and you're smart enough to graduate, then you're smart enough to figure it out on your own.'

How has the hiring landscape changed?

Lastinger: Employers used to look for students with a particular major. Now, it seems that when asked, employers are clear that they will teach new employees the specific about the tasks they need done. What they need are employees who have skills that are transferable to any job: research and analyze a problem, write a report, being able to converse with customers, etc.

Gorham: When you ask employers 'what are you looking for in an employee?' the attributes that come up over and over again are what are sometimes referred to as soft skills – people who have effective communication skills, people who can work well on teams, people who know how to approach problems. Those have always been at the heart of a liberal arts and sciences education. We're doing much more today to help students own those skills, and to use common language across the college to reinforce connections. For example, in any written or oral or multimedia communication activity the same questions are relevant: What exactly do I want to happen as a result of this communication. Who is the audience? What are the conventions of communication in this context? What could get in the way of my goals?

What's the difference between liberal arts programs and professional majors?

Lastinger: Typically, a professional major will consist of a very articulated curriculum that focuses on the area in which the students are being trained. Professional majors are often accredited by a national agency, so the curriculum is fairly set, and the students have few opportunities to explore topics. At the end of a professional program, a student is trained to start in a specific job with a good salary. On the other hand, the liberal arts curriculum is built to expose students to a wide variety of subjects and experiences. Students complete their general education courses, their major requirements, and then, they have up to 40 hours (about one-third of their degree) in general electives. Students will often use these courses to complete a second major or a minor. Seventy percent of students who graduate from the Eberly College have earned at least one minor in addition to their major. Our students also use these electives to study abroad, participate in research, complete an internship, etc. The purpose of the curriculum is for students to have a well-rounded education.

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What’s Next: The Liberal Arts Education

Valerie Lastinger, associate dean for undergraduate studies, and Joan Gorham, associate dean for academic affairs in the Eberly College have revamped the way the Office of Undergraduate Studies works with current and prospective students to support their evolving needs.

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