Research paper ideas—Is a liberal arts education a good value?

Even before the Great Recession concentrated the country’s focus on under-employment, multiple media outlets were declaring that a liberal arts education was no longer a good value in the world of higher education in terms of employment. But is that true?

How valuable do you think a liberal arts degree is? (Credit: Odyssey)

How valuable do you think a liberal arts degree is? (Credit: Odyssey)

The debate is ongoing and offers many ideas to pursue in a research paper, such as does a liberal arts degree make a person more well-rounded, or keep them from obtaining necessary job skills?

The changing face of higher education

There is no doubt that the world of higher education is undergoing a shift. Whether because of the issues surrounding the cost of a degree and student loan debt or debating the value of a liberal arts degree, universities and colleges are more scrutinized than ever. A research paper could explore other great upheavals in higher education, such as colleges admitting women and African Americans, to see how changes were handled previously and what can be learned to improve the process.

On December 31, 2012, the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) ran an article by the Associated Press, “Liberal Arts Colleges Forced to Evolve with Market,” about the ways higher education is dealing with their changing world. Some are adopting a more pre-professional curriculum; others are moving away from a liberal arts identity altogether. The article explained, “Today’s increasingly career-focused students mostly aren’t buying the idea that a liberal arts education is good value, and many small liberal arts colleges are struggling.” The article also mentioned a 2012 study that found of more than 200 self-identified liberal arts institutions identified in 1990, only 65 percent could still be described as a “true liberal arts college.”

Changing minds about liberal arts

But the negativity surrounding the idea of liberal arts may be starting to abate. Reverb.com founder David Kalt posted “Why I Was Wrong About Liberal-Arts Majors” on June 1, 2016, for The Wall Street Journal, which explained how he has come to see a well-rounded liberal arts education as a good value. “A well-­rounded liberal arts degree establishes a foundation of critical thinking. Critical thinkers can accomplish anything,” Kalt wrote.

Kalt has found that in his experience working with engineers and computer programmers, the best workers and thinkers tend to be those who started out with a liberal arts degree and learned programming in addition to that or on their own. A research paper topic could examine the history of a liberal arts education, tracing it back to its beginnings in Ancient Greece and how the concept has evolved in the last 150 years.

More evidence liberal arts is a good value

For those who need more evidence of the good value of a liberal arts degree, Akshat Rathi offered “This chart of Nobel Prize winners shows liberal-arts degrees aren’t worthless” for Quartz on October 11, 2016, detailing how some of the world’s greatest thinkers and visionaries got their starts at well-rounded liberal arts institutions.

The analysis looked at Nobel Prizes given in economics, literature, peace and science, considering more than 80 schools, all of which had produced more than three Nobel Prize winners since 1901. The resulting top 10 rankings of undergraduate institutions contained eight U.S. schools. Rathi noted, “Finally, and most surprisingly, liberal-art colleges like Amherst and Swarthmore figure in the top 10 for producing Nobel winners in the sciences.” For a philosophy class, a research paper could try to answer the question of what is a liberal arts education and why a well-rounded student should pursue such a degree.

Want to learn more about history of higher education? Check out Questia—particularly the section on liberal education.

Do you think that a liberal arts education still presents a good value? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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