My son, a college freshman, recently revealed his serious interest in pursuing a philosophy major. I immediately had visions of our serene empty nest being repopulated with an unemployed college graduate in four years.
So I shifted into guardian mode and posed the question, "So, what is it about this discipline that interests you?" This was parent speak setting up the real question of "what in the world do you plan to do with this major?"
His response reminded me of words I have used in creating advertising messages and admissions pieces at Luther: "Dad, it makes me think and understand how to think."
If one can think, reason and articulate, then the question of what do you do with a philosophy or liberal arts degree morphs into what can’t one do with this education.
But there is the issue of starting a vocational journey with a job versus moving back home. Employers are practical and look for graduates who are able to make contributions to their organizations that essentially provide a return on the salary that is being paid. And while CEO's and top managers of companies express their support of a broad liberal arts education, the people at the hiring level look for employees who are prepared to contribute immediately.
The shared responsibility of students and colleges is to create professional development opportunities that complement the academic experience. Activities and involvement that show evidence of desired skills and traits become an important part of the foundation for the job, service or graduate school search.
Work-study jobs, internships and summer employment that provide technical skills in a field a student is interested in can be important parts of building a marketable resume. Volunteer service can also be a valuable avenue for gaining skills employers value. Not-for-profit agencies need marketing, human resources and other administrative assistance, and may actually provide more substantial assignments than those provided in a business setting. Leadership, project planning and other experiences in campus activities can also be ways to provide evidence of valuable skills.
The value of an education is measured in many ways and getting a job is just one of them. It is though, a really important one of them.
We’ll see how the philosophy thing works out. Somewhere in the process I will remind my son that my studies were in English and religion.
Rob Larson is the vice president for Communications and Marketing at Luther College and a member of the President's Leadership Cabinet. He has been a member of the business faculty since 2003. Currently, he teaches the Scholars Colloquium course for first-year Regents scholars.