I'm Not an Engineer

I read this article this morning from Inside Higher Ed on my metro in. It led me to this article and a bunch of others related to the value of a liberal arts education. For the past few years we’ve been hearing about the value of higher education in general as tuition prices have soared over the past decade.

We all know that high school graduates make more than those who don’t graduate (typically), and those who graduate college (typically) make more than those who don’t go. Continuing, those who go on for master’s or professional degrees (typically) make more than those stopping at four years. We know that recent engineering grads make more than history majors—just look at those STEM jobs! And, as EM’ers, we (hypothetical “we” since I don’t actually work as an EM’er) know this and use these stats to draw in prospective students, build up our programs, and truly show the value of a degree.

I’m not an engineer. I can’t build things or do much with math beyond basic calculus. I hate trigonometry. I can’t build a computer or code. My wife is a NICU respiratory therapist at Hopkins and when I listen to her talk about setting up ewritingquipment, a particular problem a baby is having, or a technique she has to use to intubate a premature baby, I’m fascinated, but have no idea what she’s talking about. I’m a smart guy, but I can’t even pretend to have a clue.

While I have an MBA, my undergraduate degree is in English. Writing and rhetoric, that’s what my diploma says. I’m an analyst for the Senate and I write plans. I [occasionally] blog and shape words into meaning. I am an English major. You can’t place a value on my degree because to me—to me it’s priceless. My liberal arts degree prepared me to communicate, to connect, and to create.

The point of this post is simple. We’re all different. We think differently, we learn differently, we communicate differently, and we have different interests, desires, and passions. We can’t all aim to have a career in a STEM field (but trust me, I certainly understand the importance of these jobs) because we’re not all quantitative cut outs. I grasp the need to push students into these fields completely and I admire those schools that do. But, for politicians—or anyone—to suggest that funding should be cut for liberal arts programs based on job placement is a slap in the face to those students who don’t fit this created mold.

There’s nothing like having a math teacher teach history, a chemist lead a discussion on gender studies, a programmer teach grammatical structure, or a surgeon discuss the philosophy of religion—although that last one might be a fairly interesting discussion. The purpose of the liberal arts is to round us out as individuals, to provide us with knowledge in a number of fields. The purpose of having a plethora of degrees and majors is to round us out as a society, to provide us with individuals with knowledge in a number of fields.

Diversity is a good thing.

How do you sell the value of a liberal arts degree on your campus?