An Ode to Liberal Arts Education

Marketing of Liberal Arts Colleges Our Reflections

Thirty years. That’s how long Elliance has been making the case for liberal arts education with its noble goal of imparting practical idealism.

In that time, we’ve fashioned a host of edgy, bullet-proof arguments that speak of the liberal arts in fresh and exciting ways. Using the language of the day, we’ve confronted the shibboleths of vocationalism, technocracy, and careerism. To us, nothing is more practical, fulfilling and human than a liberal arts education. But at the heart of our argument has always been the heart of the matter: Personal Freedom.

Only the educated are free and only a liberal education is truly worthy of the name Formational Education.

This essay contains a bit of what we’ve been saying in viewbooks, on websites and in videos over the last three decades. But we don’t think we’ve exhausted the genre of liberal arts marketing.

The liberal arts aren’t good because they’re old; they’re old because they’re good.

More than ever, the business world is in need of intellectual athletes who come ready to play. And a liberal arts education is the best possible preparation for making a life for yourself in the real world – not simply a living. Most career training is hopelessly out of date soon after graduation anyway. So college shouldn’t be a question of how much you’ll make for yourself once you get out of college, but how much you”ll make of yourself while you’re still in college.

When it feels like the world is dog-eat-dog, it’s good to have an understanding of what it means to be human.

That’s why the liberal arts are sometimes referred to as the humanities. Modern critics claim a liberal education won’t get you a job – that it is an anachronism. But the liberally educated mind sees the flaws in this immediately. Because you are a human, and not an animal, a true education should likewise make you more humane. It should give you a greater sense of the world and the ability to find your place – and your purpose – within it.

They say it’s not what you know but who you know. Except the most important person to know is you.

Ancient philosophers believed that any education worthy of the name must help one to “know thyself.” Socrates observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Maybe that’s why so many people today find so little meaning in their lives: they haven’t discovered yet who they truly are. Nor why they are. That’s why one of the most important subjects you’ll study isn’t in a book. It’s in you. In fact, it is you. Who you are. Where you are going. And how you are going to get there. Liberal education holds up a mirror to your emerging inner self.

There’s lots of talk about free education. But precious little about an education that makes you free.

A person who doesn’t know his or herself is at a tremendous disadvantage in the world. It’s incredibly difficult to make good decisions, to have confidence or to be successful in life without this sense of self. That person is swept easily away by fads or fancies, media or myth. The problem isn’t so much that they believe nothing, but rather – especially in the age of the internet and social media – they will believe practically anything. We know only the liberal arts truly liberate; only the educated are truly free.

Whoever said great minds think alike never knew one; nor possessed one.

At a time when freedom of speech is in the news on campuses across the country, it is good to recall that disputation, not dogma, has always been at the heart of progress in human knowledge. This is a freedom cherished by the liberally educated mind. It is not fearful of opposing opinions, but invigorated and enriched by them. It knows that iron sharpens iron, and that sometimes the truth can hide itself in the most unlikely of places – such as in the words of your opponent.

If all you own is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Specialists, necessarily, build silos; they drill deeply into a subject to uncover new knowledge in a particular field. And this is good – even great – as far as it goes. But someone has to be thinking beyond the silo, right? Someone has to have a grasp of how it is all connected. A liberal education seeks to give you an appreciation for this unity of knowledge and how everything works together. Only a liberal education will give you a full tool box to solve every kind of problem.

You weren’t born to be a cog in someone else’s machine.

Many colleges approach their students as though they have only one role: the role of employee – an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader, a service provider. While this is an important role in your life, it is not the only one. You will also have a role as a citizen. A consumer. An investor. A neighbor. A spouse and parent, perhaps. A voter. A juror. Even, ironically, an employer. To be truly happy, you must find a way to live all of these roles well, not just your economic one. A liberal education is an education that refreshes all of you, and enables you to play all these roles holistically, integratively, and humanely.

We hope we get the chance to put our brains and talent together to advance the cause of liberal arts foundations at your institution. Please review our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.