Liberal arts and career prep don't have to be oil and water

The push to prepare students for the job market is stronger than ever, but many in higher ed still debate whether workplace readiness has a place in traditional academia, writes Jeffrey Young for EdSurge.

But to prepare students for post-graduation success, higher education leaders need to stop treating liberal arts and career preparation like oil and water, says Gloria Larson, president of Bentley University.

Instead, leaders should recognize that the right mixture of both produces the most professionally competitive and well-rounded students, Larson says.

Redesign academic programs to meet student demand

In conversation with Young, Larson offers the following guidelines for leaders trying to prepare students for life-long learning and career success.

Foster diverse opinions

The ability to express one's opinions will serve students well in the college classroom and the workplace, Larson explains.

When faculty and students can challenge each other's perspectives, students can practice healthy dialogue. And in today's work environment, many offices encourage employees to speak up because it fosters ground-up innovation, she says.  

Pursue holistic education

Although some may criticize higher ed's growing focus on career preparation, Larson argues that the mix of academic and professional skills creates a well-rounded education.

A holistic education will emphasize both the critical thinking skills that business leaders want and the practical experience that employers look for, Larson explains. Bentley combines academic and professional experience by encouraging students to pursue internships or double major in different disciplines, she says.

Emphasize hybrid teaching

Most professions require an interdisciplinary knowledge base and skill set, Larson notes.

For example, an HR professional will likely need a background in the HR discipline as well as data analytics skills, she notes. Bentley encourages students who major in a creative profession to get experience with related marketing or media technologies, Larson says.

To better prepare graduates for career success, Larson argues that students can't just pick the "right" major, they also have to practice academic concepts in a professional role (Young, EdSurge, 10/4).

5 steps to build a co-curricular major map

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