Career Success Depends on Liberal Arts

A recent survey of business and non-profit leaders conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) concludes that “broad learning” and “cross-cutting skills” are the most important kinds of preparation for long-term career success. When hiring new employees, these employers “overwhelmingly” look for skills in oral and written communication, teamwork, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. And more than 90 percent say that a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than (a candidate’s) undergraduate major.”

These findings should not be surprising to anyone in the field of higher education—or to those familiar with hiring practices, even in the creative industries that FIT supports. Higher education wonks will have seen results like these often—indeed, these findings are consistent with similar surveys conducted over the past five years by the AAC&U. Neither are they surprising to us at FIT. The industry leaders who visit our campus every year form a virtual chorus calling for employees who are adept at critical thinking, who have strong communication skills, and who have the capacity to deal with the ethical business-related issues they will inevitably confront

However, these findings may surprise the public at large, which has been bombarded in recent years with attacks on the very academic disciplines in which these cross-cutting skills are most readily developed: the liberal arts. Its critics see liberal arts learning as an indulgence and a distraction for students who face an intensely competitive, technologically advanced job marketplace. But it is through the liberal arts that students learn the very things employers clearly want: to think critically, ask the right questions, analyze, and problem solve. It is through the liberal arts, too, that they gain exposure to the global cultures that are critical to the careers they will pursue. It is through the liberal arts that they will learn to communicate well.

That is why today, at this career-oriented college, liberal arts study is a strategic and integral part of the curriculum. It is a fundamental building block for all of our academic programs. I find it gratifying that liberal arts courses are so popular that we now offer 21 minors—ranging from Asian studies to economics to ethics and sustainability, a topic of urgent interest to the design and fashion industries our students enter.

There are many fascinating findings in this survey—most of which, on reflection, bode well for FIT. I expect to share my thoughts on some of the other findings in future posts.