Why a liberal arts education is in demand for employers

October 14, 2022

In October, which marks Arts and Humanities Month, La Salle faculty shared how critical-thinking skills play into every career path.  

A liberal arts education comes into play in every workplace and in every field.  

That’s part of the reason why La Salle University equips its students with critical-thinking and civil discourse skills across all majors and disciplines.  

“Employers… believe that a liberal arts education—or preparation for more than a specific job—provides knowledge and skills that are important for career success,” according to Inside Higher Ed, which highlighted key findings from an Association of American Colleges and Universities report, How College Contributes to Workforce Success: Employer Views on What Matters Most. 

The AAC&U study noted that employers highly value learning outcomes like critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, teamwork, and communication through writing and speaking.  

Faculty from La Salle’s School of Arts and Sciences, School of Business, and School of Nursing and Health Sciences shared how a liberal arts education comes into play in the classroom and beyond.  

The responses from La Salle faculty follow: 

How is a liberal arts education beneficial to students?   

“I like to think of the liberal arts as the ‘liberating arts’—intellectual cultivation that frees us, if we choose, to be the best version of ourselves. Part of that is freeing us from narrow ideas of what is ‘useful’ or ‘beneficial,’ especially ideas that reduce education to job preparation or the liberal arts to what might be useful for a future employer. It is the liberal arts that free us to think for ourselves, to exercise care over ourselves, to celebrate the human, to live in the present moment, to pursue active citizenship and democratic participation.”  

—Joel Garver, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Philosophy, Director, First-Year Academic Seminar 

I credit my own liberal arts education for preparing me to succeed in the workplace, first as a partner in an international law firm and then as the managing partner of my own business. I learned to appreciate evidence-based inquiry, think on my feet and communicate eloquently—all essential in work and in life. But my education did more than that; it helped me appreciate the responsibility I have, as a global citizen to give back, as I first did as a founder of HighSight, a tutoring and mentoring program for low-income youth and as I now do in the classroom. I am thankful to my own parents for letting me use my college years to explore all that a true liberal arts college experience has to offer and to discern who I am and what I was meant to do. Studying sociology, in particular, gave me insight into people, processes, organizations and structures that helped me navigate my way in the business world and to be nimble as inevitably change and challenges presented. I like to think that my encounters with the many disciplines that comprise a true liberal arts education, have helped me fashion an even richer classroom experience for the students I now teach at La Salle.”  

—Karen Reardon, Ph.D., J.D., Associate Professor, Department of Management and Leadership   

How do employers benefit from their team members having a liberal arts education? 

“Many employers value employees who understand the social context of health and illness as well as the contextual factors that influence behaviors and decisions. Employers are also often looking for employees and leaders who can implement creative and novel strategies and approaches to addressing public health issues and other challenges. Students must be prepared for diverse careers that allow them to think outside of the box and employers value employees who are more prepared for a changing workforce. 

—Candace Robertson-James, DrPH, Assistant Professor, Public Health, Director, Bachelor & Master of Public Health Program 

“The liberal arts nurture whole persons and, thereby, foster intellectual curiosity, imaginative problem-solving, adaptability, persistence, and the multiple literacies necessary to process and analyze information and to communicate it to others. Moreover, the liberal arts can equip us to remain ethically self-aware, to form reasoned arguments, to value the perspectives of others, and to navigate diversity meaningfully. Employees prepared in these ways know that they are never just employees but have obligations and solidarities that extend to other people, to neighbors, and to the natural world. As such, they can hold organizations accountable and elevate workplace culture in ways that benefit not just their employers, but also their fellow workers and the customers and communities they serve.”  


What makes critical thinking and civil discourse such important skills in the workforce? 

“People are faced with more data and decisions than ever in today’s uncertain business environment. Data is useless unless we learn to ask good questions, think critically, and decide what to do with it.  Improving the quality of our thinking can result in more effective decision-making, all of which have the potential to impact the quality of our lives and workplace. Critical thinking skills are increasingly important for workplace success. Most business leaders point to a shortage of critical thinking and decision-making skills in the workforce. We need to identify and formulate problems effectively, think outside the box and generate good solutions exhaustively, think logically and evaluate these solutions efficiently, choose the most suitable solution systematically, and act on our decisions decisively.”  

—Madjid Tavana, Ph.D., Chair and Professor, Department of Business Systems and Analytics

 What are ways you reinforce these skills in your classes? 

“In philosophy and the other humanities, we examine the products of human reflection upon what it means to be human, whether that is imaginative literature, visual art, material culture, religious practices, or philosophical contemplation. Effective engagement requires imagination, courage, patience, and empathy as well as careful thought, to inhabit the minds of others and to encounter them in their joys and sorrows, successes and failures, often at a great distance from us in time, place, and culture.”  



“The Public Health Program uses several strategies to reinforce liberal arts and critical thinking in our courses. We have a one-book program, which allows students to engage in one book addressing experiences of inequity or discrimination, racism, etc. from various perspectives throughout each of our courses each semester. Each of these books have provided opportunities for critical thought, reflection and discussion within Public Health and beyond. These books help students better understand historical and everyday experiences of diverse groups and help students better appreciate the strengths of communities. We also host guest lecturers, mural arts and other community tours and special seminars that can expose students to diverse disciplines so that they can value the contribution of the liberal arts in population health. All the programs in our school integrate similar approaches in terms of clinical integration with coursework, reinforcement of concepts through pedagogical techniques and innovative teaching strategies.”  


“Research by Hogan, Chamorro-Premuic and Kaiser, R.B. (2013) makes clear that ‘from the employer’s perspective, the single most important characteristic determining employability is interpersonal skill or social competence.’ So, while there is ample time when I am the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ imparting principles of law or management, in my classroom and those of my Lasallian colleagues, students are active learners practicing these critical soft skills- public speaking, active listening, respectful dialog, teamwork and empathy. In doing so, they learn as much from each other as they do from me.”