Changing the Narrative of a Liberal Arts Education
A common misperception that unfortunately dominates much of the public discourse about the value of higher education is that a liberal arts education does not really prepare students for successful careers. Professor Ascan Koerner argues quite the opposite. He and his colleagues are actively changing the narrative on what a liberal arts education provides to students ready to embark on careers. Koerner uses his expertise in communication studies to understand their liberal arts education as the development of core career competencies, such as analytical and critical thinking, problem solving, active citizenship, and most importantly, communication.
With 69 majors and 67 minors in the College of Liberal Arts, there are many different avenues students can take to chart their career paths. Education, however, is more than the major. "A liberal arts education produces adaptability and lifelong learners—there's no time stamp on these competencies," Koerner says, "making them especially critical for students that enter into a highly dynamic and unpredictable future economy."
"Liberal arts students develop core career competencies, which are what employers desire," Koerner explains. These competencies represent skills that are inherently developed through a liberal arts education and give students an advantage in their individual professional careers. Some of the competencies include analytical and critical thinking, applied problem solving, and teamwork and leadership.
Koerner's work will help the College emphasize the career competencies embedded in a liberal arts degree to its students, so that the students can articulate them to potential employers. "Employers know these students are smart, but the students can't explain their skills," Koerner says. "That's why helping our students to identify, reflect, and articulate the skills they develop through their liberal arts education is at the heart of this career readiness initiative."
Career readiness messaging is already being implemented across admissions events, the First Year Experience course, and academic advising. In spring, CLA will publish its first ever career guidebook for CLA students and a career management course for 500 sophomores will be offered in fall '17. Koerner’s long term goal is for every graduate to know exactly what they've learned, empowering students and increasing confidence among liberal arts graduates.
When asked what motivated him to lead this initiative for the College, Koerner says, "We owe it to our students—they are making a huge investment in their future and we as an institution need to be able to help them make that investment worth it. It's our moral obligation to help students understand why and how a liberal arts degree helps them for their professional career."