Arts students mean business



Schoneker, Jake

We return to school this year surrounded by the noise of campus construction projects. Soon we will have expanded our athletic facilities and built new law and nursing schools to shine alongside the futuristic CEER building and the burgeoning School of Business in Bartley Hall.

All of these developments are part of an effort to create a new image of modernity across campus. How strange, then, that we seem to be leaving the liberal arts school behind.

While business students pore over flashy stock tickers and analyze market trends in the spacious Bartley, liberal arts students are forever destined to trudge ruefully up the old, unforgiving stairs of Tolentine Hall, sitting sweaty in stale rooms and struggling to focus. The creaky floors and dusty bookshelves that support scholarly pursuits seem to be ready to collapse – relics of the ancient and outdated pursuit of knowledge.

Is this truly a sign of the times? Are we leaving our liberal education behind us in our quest for specialized training? Fear not, friends – while our stone home may be archaic compared to the house of business, the pursuit of a liberal arts degree is far from old-fashioned. On the contrary, the dynamic world we will soon enter demands individuals who can think critically, communicate effectively and solve problems that cannot be reduced to numbers and trends. Never before have the skills developed through a liberal education been more important. While a business education focuses on learning for the sake of something else (namely, finding a job), a liberal arts education promotes learning for its own sake.

Ask any potential employer and they will tell you that the most important assets a potential employee can have are communication and critical problem-solving skills (two foundations of any scholarly pursuit in the humanities and social sciences). How ironic, then, that business schools place such a stress on analytical proficiency rather than enhancing the kind of communication skills one needs to succeed in business. Perhaps this is why evidence shows that liberal arts majors are more effective business managers than their specialist counterparts.

An AT&T study indicates that because of their interpersonal skills, humanities and social science majors were better equipped for management positions than business, math and science/engineering majors. The study also found that liberal arts graduates generally move into middle management faster than their business counterparts, attain top level management positions at the same rate and have better overall job satisfaction.

Another study done by faculty at Stanford University found similar results, naming communication skills as the most important element of success in business – and the best communicators come from a broad liberal arts background. For this reason, the director of Stanford’s MBA program has been quoted as saying that his program actually prefers applicants who graduated with liberal arts degrees.

Any employer can train you to have the specialized skills of a particular job, but those who approach the challenges of a new career with a trained capacity for learning and a real interest in engaging with other people will be better able to adapt to new conditions and be successful.

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics says that the average person will change careers at least three times in their life. Having a broad base of expertise and being able to excel in a variety of fields couldn’t be more important.

Certainly, this is not to say that business grads won’t find success; anyone who is skilled, driven and willing to work hard will find opportunities for themselves. The point is that in the working world we are soon to enter, being a knowledgeable, well-rounded individual will provide benefits above and beyond the training one might receive as a result of a more specialized education.

So to any liberal arts major who has heard those awful interrogations from friends and family – “Well, what the heck are you going to do with that?” – don’t be afraid to tell them. You’ll learn to learn, and in the process, you’ll become a competent adult that can think critically and connect meaningfully with people. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you end up doing, it only matters that you’ll be able to do it well.


Jake Schoneker is a senior political science and humanities major from Lansdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]