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What is Liberal Education?

By Amanda Dean
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A liberal education provides a broad base in academic history, theory, and practice. This type of schooling provides students with exposure to numerous fields, producing well-rounded students. The underlying theory behind a liberal education is that if students think critically about a variety of disciplines they can see the interconnections and contradictions between them. Thus, students should be able to come up with new ideas to further advance human knowledge.

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in liberal arts, which should not be confused with a liberal education. Liberal arts are often focused on arts, language, and social studies. A liberal education encompasses these disciplines, but it also exposes students to mathematics, science, and technology. This type of an education puts more emphasis on interdisciplinary communication and problem solving than a traditional liberal arts degree.

When students enter liberal education programs, they select a major area of study. This is the core focus of their work, but they will also take courses in a variety of other disciplines. This is known as general education. In these courses, students may meet and develop ideas with practitioners and initiates from diverse academic backgrounds. This should form the base for collaboration and out-of-the-box mentalities.

The goal of a liberal education is to produce more than technicians in a particular vocation. Traditional education programs focus on how a particular task is completed, but they don't really delve into why it is done that way nor encourage students to develop novel ideas on the subject. While there is definitely a need for vocational training such as medicine, law, and technology, this is not the goal among liberal educators.

Some might say that a liberal education seeks to save, or at least improve, the world. Educators seek to teach cultural competencies by providing students with several points of view. Students are expected to consider the large-scale impact that knowledge may have on humanity. Programs demand that students both ask and answer difficult questions about the state of the world in which they live. One of the most challenging aspects of this type of degree is the changing nature of social, economic, political, and environmental forces.

By selecting a liberal education, students may make themselves more employable than traditional graduates. The broad-based learning style allows students considerable flexibility in their career choices. Graduates have proven themselves to be teachable and intellectually curious. Many companies and organizations seek this type of flexibility when selecting new employees.

As they enter the business world, students with this type of education can demonstrate to their employers that they are adept at problem-solving and critical thinking. If they don't understand a concept or a task, employees with a liberal education are often adept at asking the right questions and independently seeking answers to challenging problems.

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