December 1

Making the Case for a Liberal Arts Education


If someone asked you, could you make the case for a liberal arts education at your college or university?

It’s getting more difficult every day to make that argument to prospective students who’re looking at an increasingly technological world.

Each year, the job market seems to care more about what you can do, build, or design rather than what ideas you know. 

Of course, that job market pressure pushes against the whole idea of a liberal arts education.

So how can you successfully make the case for a liberal arts education in today’s highly competitive, tech-driven world?

Dr. Lake Lambert of Hannover College shares his insights on how to make the case for a liberal arts education in today's tech-driven world. That was the question on our mind as we spoke with Dr. Lake Lambert, the 16th President of Hanover College.

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Dr. Lambert outlines how Hannover College markets the concept of the liberal arts and gives examples of how to use statistics and stories to reach students.  

Preparing for the Unknown

In my own background, I went to a small, private college that focused a lot on a liberal arts education, much like Hannover College. 

For some, that might sound like a secluded education where students read antiquated books in quiet libraries in Greek or Latin. 

But the reality is that the liberal arts have evolved. 

And it’s coming back into a very important part of education.

In Hanover, we really like to talk about combining a liberal arts education with career readiness, that it’s not a choice that a student has to make. 

Instead they should see [the liberal arts and career readiness] as different parts of the same path. 

[It should be considered] a question of breadth and depth of what I also described as “long-term thinking” and “short-term thinking.” 

[A modern liberal arts education should have] immediate impact in the short term when a student graduates. (Absolutely, you need to be career ready!) But [you also need] to be able to continue to adjust and change as the world around you changes. You need the long-term benefits that the liberal arts curriculum provides. 

Because [the liberal arts education] is going to develop those great critical thinking and communication skills and expose you to a variety of subject areas that you’re going to be able to turn to and build on for the rest of your life.

When I was in college, there seemed to be a hard dichotomy between the liberal arts and real-world training. 

It seemed like the question was, “Do you want culture or a career?”

But today’s liberal arts education doesn’t have to be so exclusive or dogmatic. 

Now that we’re in the 21st century, it is critical for students to be able to have more of that well-rounded education.

It’s about relevancy, and it’s also about the reality of how the world works. 

An employer today wants to know that you can make an immediate impact when you come into their organization. They want to know that you have a certain set of skills and ways that you can add value when you arrive. 

But then also, you need to know that over the course of a career and a lifetime that you can adapt to developing into new careers that don’t even exist now. 

So both [immediate job impact and long-term career flexibility] are essential. 

I would say that type of dualistic thinking is exactly what a liberal arts education always challenges. 

I don’t think we can overestimate the value of a liberal arts education in preparing students for an ever-shifting job landscape.

Sometimes we lose sight of how we’re preparing students for “new careers that don’t even exist now.”

Think about that. That’s a major benefit of liberal arts that needs to be conveyed in our messaging.

Liberal Arts Education Can Prepare Generation Alpha for Unpredictable Career Trajectories

Previously, we had Mark McCrindle on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast. He’s a leading sociological researcher and is actually the person who coined the term “Generation Alpha.”

In our episode with him, he talked about the idea that, based on the research he and his firm are doing, Generation Alpha students (the generation right after Gen Z) will have 10 to 12 career changes throughout their lifetime. 

That’s a major change! I remember my dad had one career. A lot of Boomers experienced that. 

But for Generation Alpha, who will supposedly have 10 to 12 career changes, that’s all the more reason for a liberal arts education.

The world is only accelerating. Change is only accelerating. And we have to be ready for that. 

The challenge if you’re a 17-year-old is understanding what long-term thinking means versus short-term thinking. 

This is the big hurdle you have to get over when marketing a liberal arts education to prospective students. 

How do you get them to see past the short-term need for employment right after college to 20 years down the road when they’ll need other skills to successfully jump to their third career?

Marketing messaging needs to show how timeless skills are just as necessary as cutting-edge knowledge.

Critical thinking and communication are timeless. 

The things you communicate about and the things you think about may change but developing those school skills are essential. 

Also, the reality for a lot of folks as they move up the ladder and make more money, is the opportunity to lead and manage people. 

Those types of skills you develop in a liberal arts education—empathy, understanding of others, the ability to navigate differences from different cultures or different ideas, and communicating—those are all key to being a successful leader. 

[Having these skills] is only going to make someone’s career better long-term.

Marketing a Liberal Arts Education to Prospective Students

Returning to the idea of how to market to 17 and 18 year-olds who are still thinking only in terms of job readiness, Dr. Lambert has some good advice for the higher ed marketer. 

Because career success will require both short-term and long-term thinking skills, your messaging strategy will need to adopt that same kind of two-pronged approach starting with career readiness. 

If you don’t address [the short-term employment needs of your students], then you will have missed your audience. 

You have to come out strong and make the case that [the student] is going to be ready for work or whatever’s next immediately after [graduating]. Maybe that’s advanced education, maybe that’s a job—we’re going to have all of that for you. 

But it doesn’t stop there. It has to be much more, and it has to be not only this first job. It has to be that job and beyond. 

I don’t think you can shy away from answering that immediate concern [of short-term employment]. There are good reasons for families and students to have that immediate concern. 

Some of that has to do simply with the cost of higher education. It also has to do with debt and wanting to know how college debt and career go together. 

Unless we can answer that question, then I think that we will lose students. Then liberal arts education will be what it was often accused of being—only for the elite. 

It always has to be this “both/and” [approach]. I don’t mind leading with career readiness. 

Liberal arts education has evolved. And with the liberal arts, our methods and messaging behind marketing the liberal arts need to evolve as well. 

I hope you learned a lot from this blog post—I encourage you to check out the whole podcast episode

There really is so much more there that I couldn’t fit into a blog.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Lake Lambert to get even more insights into:

  • What does a well-rounded education mean for career readiness
  • How to market to high school students and parents who are often focused on job readiness 
  • Dr. Lambert’s thoughts on the value of liberal arts curriculum

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