A recent article in the New York Times (“A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding,” 2/21/16) was a disheartening look at how some politicians are taking a short-sighted view of liberal arts education. Member campuses of NAC&U, which purposefully integrate liberal arts, professional studies and civic engagement, will argue that a successful STEM major has both a strong technical and liberal arts background at graduation. Recently, NAC&U shared this message in Washington, DC, including at a Capitol Hill Briefing where Drury University graduate Evan Melgren said, “Industries need people to ask ‘why’ as much as it needs people to ask ‘how,’” as he reflected on his multidisciplinary undergraduate experience working on a U.S. Solar Decathlon team alongside students in architecture, solar technology, art history, and nursing, to name a few.
The New York Times article referred to North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory’s concern about college students’ ability to find jobs after graduation. In a survey conducted earlier this year, NAC&U member campuses that responded reported that an average of 92% of graduates were able to secure employment or graduate school placement within six months after graduation. While the article seemed largely focused on taxpayer funding for students in public universities, it was interesting to note that an average of 25% of these NAC&U students receive federal Pell funding.
We give students the best chance of building a satisfying career and finding their place in the world when we deliver both a high-quality, broad-based liberal education and opportunities to develop professionally. In-class learning along with hands-on experience, regardless of their majors, helps our graduates to work collaboratively, be curious and observant, deal with ambiguity, and remain persistent in the face of disappointment – qualities that are necessary in every profession, from the entry-level worker to the seasoned executive.
Liberal arts cannot be separated from STEM education. Manhattan College student Dylan Gray, a physics major and philosophy minor, summed it up best at our events in DC when he said, “Liberal arts helps physics majors talk with people about things other than physics.”