Business Majors and the Liberal Arts

Yoni Appelbaum, who has a PhD in history and is Politics editor for The Atlantic, has a new piece on the importance of liberal arts education for people who want to thrive in business.

American undergraduates are flocking to business programs, and finding plenty of entry-level opportunities. But when businesses go hunting for CEOs or managers, “they will say, a couple of decades out, that I’m looking for a liberal arts grad,” said Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.

That presents a growing challenge to colleges and universities. Students are clamoring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt, and contribute as citizens—and to build successful careers. And it’s why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need—a rigorous liberal-arts education.

It’s a good piece and you should read it! What’s frustrating to me here is that Samuelson isn’t saying anything especially new. We’ve had a generation of attacks on liberal learning from the anti-intellectual segments of American society and a generation of responses from educators and the otherwise venerated corporate leaders who point to all the evidence that liberal education works.

I don’t know how to fix this, but I wonder if the direct focus on what job you get after graduation permits the wild escalation of costs, which in turn requires us to directly focus on jobs. The better approach might be to push for (as the Sanders campaign did, though in general I was not a Sanders supporter due to its failures on disability policy) wholesale transformation of the funding system for higher education.

Because rich business leaders or brilliant intellectuals promising young folks that, really, a liberal arts education will serve you best both in life hasn’t worked.

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