Conference at Wake Forest University will examine merits of liberal arts education

Higher education leaders will begin discussing the value of a liberal arts education in the job market at a national conference hosted by Wake Forest University today.

The event titled “Rethinking Success: From the Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century” will run from today through Friday at Wake Forest’s campus and will feature Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, as the keynote speaker.

Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest, said in an email that the conference’s goal is to address whether or not higher education is fulfilling its role of preparing students for life after college.

“What’s unique is that we’re actually crowdsourcing a roadmap to redefine how we collectively better prepare students for life after college,” Chan said. “Something we can implement at our individual institutions to affect change on a national level.”

Faculty and administrators from more than 70 colleges and universities nationwide will be attending the conference, including UNC-CH. The conference is also open to the public, but there is limited space and attendees must register at rethinkingsuccess.wfu.edu.

The conference will feature several panels during the three-day period discussing various topics, such as the history of liberal arts institutions, employment and market trends, understanding what today’s students expect and need and the perspective of today’s employers.

Katie Neal, spokeswoman for Wake Forest, said the conference is not a debate between the two types of institutions.

“It’s meant to help improve the way higher education as a whole is preparing students for that world of work and for life after college,” she said.

Roger Baldwin, an education professor at Michigan State University, conducted a study in 2009 to determine if liberal arts institutions are in decline.

According to the study, the number of liberal arts institutions decreased from 212 in 1990 to 130 in 2009.

If a college offered more than 60 percent of its degrees in professional fields such as nursing and business rather than liberal arts fields such as philosophy and history, it was no longer considered a true liberal arts college.

Less prestigious colleges with fewer resources are more likely to change their mission than the more “elite” and costly institutions, Baldwin said.

“Our concern is that liberal arts educations will only be available to the intellectual and economic elite,” he said.

Chan said in order for the liberal arts to survive, institutions must focus on making career development a critical part of the college experience.

He cited as an example a Wake Forest senior interested in advertising who, instead of majoring in business or marketing, double majored in economics and anthropology.

“She is a great example of how universities, employers and students should consider and market the liberal arts differently to be relevant in today’s workforce.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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