May 27, 2014

The value of humanities in education

By Michael K. Young

As the academic year comes to a close, and graduates are seeking employment or considering their next move, my expectations for success of UW students and graduates are unparalleled — not only for those leaving here with computer science and other technical and professional degrees, but also for graduates of humanities and other liberal arts programs.

Recently, I met with the chairs of the humanities departments in our College of Arts & Sciences to discuss the benefit of humanities study for students of all majors. As the cornerstone of traditional liberal arts colleges, the humanities have enjoyed a special place in higher education as institutions expanded their offerings to meet the needs of enterprise and industry.

A study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities surveying employers about what they want in the ideal employee concluded that more than 90 percent of employers want someone who has a broad knowledge base and who can collaborate to solve complex problems, debate, communicate and think critically — all skills that humanities programs expect students to acquire before they graduate. And our terrific students do!

Other desirable qualities that employers listed are also integral to humanities degree requirements: ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, the capacity for continued new learning and applied knowledge in real-world settings. And 80 percent of employers agreed that, regardless of their major, all college students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

The UW is committed to providing a transformative experience for our students to ensure each one’s preparedness for life after college. Majoring in a humanities discipline or taking a course or two to complement another major will benefit students as they venture out into our interconnected world, where having an understanding of the tenets of humanities — language, literature, film and the history of ideas — is an advantage to succeeding in our modern, diverse and global economy.

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