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The Globe and Mail

In the digital age, the much-maligned, liberal-arts degree still has deep value

Hadia Akhtar stands outside of Robarts library on the University of Toronto campus. Akhtar is a recent political science and economics graduate and, like many of her contemporaries, plans to pursue post-graduate work because there are no jobs for her.

Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail/della rollins The Globe and Mail

As the academic year comes to an end, graduates in the humanities and social sciences may be indulging in the familiar springtime ritual of liberal-arts bashing. For what kind of a job does the study of ancient Greek history or the philosophy of Immanuel Kant prepare them?

The proportion of undergraduate students choosing liberal arts over other degrees has been declining over time, while the number of students studying business is increasing.

And yet the much-maligned, classical liberal-arts degree still has deep value. In the digital age, students need to spend more time, not less, learning to read, write and analyze. The ability to mount a persuasive argument and communicate well are keys to success in so many fields, including business, engineering and information technology. Six of the nine sitting Supreme Court judges have bachelor of arts degrees - and so does the man who runs one of Canada's largest pension funds, Michael Sabia.

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To foster a greater association in the public's mind between a liberal-arts education and career success, more co-operative programs should be introduced, such as the one at the University of Waterloo. Apprenticeship programs in the liberal arts would require strategic partnerships with the private sector, and give businesses that value writing and analytical skills access to students being trained to do exactly that. For their part, students would gain valuable insights into the business world - and graduate with less debt.

Most liberal-arts graduates know they won't be employed in their field. But the cultural literacy and adaptability they acquire make it easier to succeed in a knowledge-based economy. No wonder they earn 25 per cent more than those with college diplomas. While technology is always changing, the ability to think critically is a life skill.

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