The idea of pursuing a university education for something other than a degree that will catapult a grad from the convocation stage straight into a job seems almost quaint nowadays.
Yet, in a world where the forbidding spectre of unemployment and student loan debt looms large, should students take a chance on, say, the liberal arts?
You bet, says University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman.
“The question is, how do we recognize the value the humanities bring?” Wildeman said in an interview with The Windsor Star last fall. “They teach people to think, read, critique and find solutions
to complicated problems and that’s all great stuff.
“In the push towards practical training and the need to get a job right away, I think we’ve forgotten the value of that.”
In fact, in a September 2015 guest column run in The Globe and Mail, Wildeman made a strong case for why it’s imperative for universities to continue to offer such programs, in spite of a drop in province-wide enrolment.
In,“We Ignore the Liberal Arts at our Peril,” he noted that, “A degree in the liberal arts, with its focus on the broad spectrum of human endeavour, has never been needed more.”
“It is one of society’s best investments in helping to ensure that our self-reflections are broad, and that in this Age of Justification, we do not forget the importance of enlightenment and reason.”
In other words, we shouldn’t throw out the study of the liberal arts with the bathwater in the misguided theory that only certain degrees will prove valuable.
Research also contradicts the idea of sagging returns on a liberal arts degree. According to a study by the British Council, more than 55 per cent of leaders in modern countries come from the humanities and social sciences.
The idea of “liberal arts” goes back to the Ancient Greeks who considered a liberal arts education to be the ultimate mark of an educated person.
Today, the liberal arts are broadly accepted as such areas as film, visual arts, history, literature, languages, linguistics, philosophy, communications, psychology, law, sociology, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics, to name but a few.
For those who want to really explore this broad range of study, the University of Windsor offers a concentrated focus through its Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LAPS) degree programs.
These honours and general degrees allow students to build a personalized, educational experience. The goal is to ignite a love of lifelong learning, a capacity for leadership, and self-advocacy skills.
The Liberal Arts and Professional Studies Honours degree is a challenging, four-year program that’s excellent preparation for such further academic studies as education, law, medicine, business or graduate school. It is also offered as a three-year general degree.
The Aeronautics Leadership Program is a variation that provides a unique opportunity to combine a liberal arts and leadership-focused education with commercial flight training run by the program’s industry partner, Journey Air, at Windsor International Airport.
The most recent addition to the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies degree programs is the new Degree Completion Program in Liberal Arts and Professional Studies for Career Professionals.
It can be taken as full-time (two years) or part-time through online courses.
The Degree Completion program encourages graduates from a wide variety of community college diploma programs to apply for advanced standing.
Lecturer and program coordinator Tim Brunet says that this type of program is known as an “upside-down” degree because it is suited to people already in the workforce who want to return to university to expand their knowledge and qualifications.
“Students can delve into nearly every faculty and build a degree that suits their personal needs and interests,” says Brunet. “This includes the ability to study online, part-time or full-time.”
Students in the degree completion program may study languages, communications, psychology, fine arts, philosophy, business, political science, history and sociology, as well as new, interdisciplinary courses in knowledge management, organizational learning, diffusion of innovations, online collaboration, and auctions.
Brunet illustrates how departments have worked collaboratively across faculties to ensure the broadest range of opportunity for Liberal Arts and Professional Studies students. “For example, the School of Computer Science offers courses for end-users in website design, social media, and app design. By offering these courses to non-science majors, it allows them to get more depth in their studies without being enrolled in a science degree program.”
Brunet adds that, “The primary goal of the degree is that students will engage in the kind of academic exploration that will promote a more fulfilling and exciting approach to their life and career.”
Grant Pennington, director of hydro distribution at EnWin Utilities, graduated from the General Liberal and Professional Studies program last October.
He’d begun studies in the early 1980s but left school to work full time. Pennington says he dabbled with part-time studies over the years, but that he had “lost my way” educationally. Then, a chance meeting with a University of Windsor professor at a conference convinced him to give his education another go.
After enrolling in the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies program, Pennington “rediscovered” his own love for learning. “Courses covering environmental studies, technology, business and the power of social media became opportunities to reignite my interest in studying new things.”
One of the aspects he says he enjoyed most was the chance to study the arts and humanities, which he says are critical to understanding people. “Studying arts and humanities helps unlock the puzzle that people present. Our art, philosophy, writings and history provide those insights into understanding human beings, as well as the skills to research, digest and synthesize alternatives. Alternatives and, most particularly, a variety of points of view and approaches, make collaborative ideas all the more well-rounded and powerful.”
Distance student Christine Provencher. (Fera Elisa Kennedy Photography)
Christine Provencher is a part-time student in fourth year of the Honours program at the university’s partner institution, Lambton College, in Sarnia, Ont. When she graduates in June, she will be the first student to have completed the degree as a distance program.
An injury she sustained in 2011 meant she couldn’t come to Windsor to take part. “Distance education gives me the flexibility to work on my studies at the times of day that are best suited for me. Learning keeps me positive, active, and productive.”
She enrolled originally to strengthen her employment prospects, but was pleased to find that the program broadened her knowledge in ways she didn’t expect. “For example, I could now go to an art exhibition and recognize the various artists, as well as their styles, techniques, and eras. I now understand macro and microanatomy and the physiology of organisms. I can now design a website.”
Provencher plans to continue on after earning her undergraduate degree, but hasn’t decided which kind of graduate or professional school she’ll pursue.
Andrew Deane is a third-year Liberal Arts and Professional Studies student who has studied both full and part time. “I enrolled in this program because I wanted to further my education (I have two college diplomas) but was not sure what particular major I wanted to focus on.
“I have a profound love of learning and many interests, including evolutionary biology and neurology, personal finance and financial investing, and the arts.”
But Deane says that, before he entered the program, society had extinguished that “inner flame” of learning in him. As he considers himself “intrinsically an artist”, he took advantage of the opportunity to study abroad in Italy via the School of Creative Arts. That experience, “rekindled the inner knowledge that, at my core, I am at peace with myself when consumed in artistic, creative pursuits.”
While Deane originally intended to switch into a more “traditional job-friendly major”, he has come to the conclusion that it is an “outdated concept.”
“If you are going to spend a number of years investing in your university education, you should start with yourself and focus on what you enjoy and love, and not some mirage of a societal standard that disappears as you move closer to your objective,” says Deane. He is now considering pursuing his master’s degree.
Charlotte Swanson, who started the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies club
Charlotte Swanson is a full-time student in third year of the General Liberal Arts and Professional Studies program, as well as a full-time employee who works midnights, and a mother of two.
“I enrolled in the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies program because I have a very diverse thirst for knowledge,” says Swanson. “I had problems choosing subjects at first because I loved everything. Originally, I was an undeclared student. When I realized that I could travel and finish a degree in LAPS, I was hooked.”
She loves the fact that the broad range of courses she’s taken has given her such confidence. “I am able to hold an intellectual conversation with anyone I meet because I have taken courses in science, computers, English, accounting, business, and many, many more areas.”
Swanson even started the Liberal Arts and Professionals Studies club to “help students with developing their resumé, interview skills, and connecting them with possible job opportunities.”
After earning her general degree, she plans to tackle the honours program and then apply to the dual law program at the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit Mercy.
Wherever the program eventually leads her, “The thirst of knowledge that I have will never stop. I do not think I will ever stop taking courses. We are evolutionary creatures and, if we do not adapt our knowledge and keep it current, our mentality will be outdated.”
Liberal Arts and Professional Studies students are the future of the global economy, says Swanson. “We study everything!”